Archive for November, 2015

13
Nov
15

Roundup – DOT COM FOR MURDER

Best of the Best:

Cheap Oil Helps China Unseat Canada as Top U.S. Trade Partner [Victoria Stillwell on Bloomberg News] (11/4/15)

China is poised to become the biggest U.S. trading partner this year, eclipsing Canada for the first time as the slump in oil prices reduces the value of energy exports for America’s neighbor to the north. Trade in goods with China reached $441.6 billion this year through September, exceeding the $438.1 billion balance with Canada for the first time in U.S. Commerce Department data going back to 1985.

The Russian Recession Is Helping Airbnb Win Moscow [Ilya Khrennikov on Bloomberg News] (11/2/15)

A record number of Russians are opening their apartments and cars to strangers to supplement their salaries, helping to lift the siege mentality the Kremlin’s been promoting since the U.S. and other former Cold War foes imposed sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine last year…The lodging website’s Russian business has more than doubled in the past year, elevating Moscow into the top 10 cities by outbound bookings as travelers seek cheaper alternatives to hotels. And unlike several other cities, such as New York and Barcelona, Moscow’s government says it has no plans to introduce special regulations or tax rules for Airbnb…BlaBlaCar, the long-distance ride-sharing service that was valued at $1.6 billion in a fundraising round in September, said it’s been astounded at how fast it has grown since entering the Russian market early last year…BlaBlaCar connects drivers and passengers, estimates gasoline costs and recommends each traveler pay a third. In most of Europe, the company takes a commission of about 12 percent, but its Russian service will be free until more people get used to the concept. Ildar Valeev, a 26-year-old motor-oil salesman who has to drive between cities for work, said he loves not only having companions but also choosing them. BlaBlaCar users are asked to indicate their music preferences and degree of chattiness (Bla, BlaBla or BlaBlaBla) to help ensure compatibility.  He said his favorite trip is one he took recently from Izhevsk to Ufa, cities 340 kilometers apart, with three colorful characters who were very “BlaBlaBla.” “I had a bodybuilder, a stripper and a museum worker,” Valeev said. “There was a lot to talk about.”

Climate Change Kills the Mood: Economists Warn of Less Sex on a Warmer Planet [Eric Roston on Bloomberg News] (11/2/15)

Three economists studied 80 years of U.S. fertility and temperature data and found that when it’s hotter than 80 degrees F, a large decline in births follows within 10 months. Would-be parents tend not to make up for lost time in subsequent, cooler months. An extra “hot day” (the economists use quotation marks with the phrase) leads to a 0.4 percent drop in birth rates nine months later, or  1,165 fewer deliveries across the U.S. A rebound in subsequent months makes up just 32 percent of the gap…Control over the climate at home might make a difference. The researchers suggest that the rise of air conditioning may have helped offset some heat-related fertility losses in the U.S. since the 1970s.

Over 40 percent of China’s online sales counterfeit, shoddy: Xinhua [Adam Jourdan on Reuters] (11/2/15)

More than 40 percent of goods sold online in China last year were either counterfeits or of bad quality, the official Xinhua news agency said, illustrating the extent of a problem that has bogged down the fast-growing online sector. According to the report, which was delivered to China’s top lawmakers on Monday, just under 59 percent of items sold online last year were “genuine or of good quality”, Xinhua said.

Ian Fleming: Pussy Galore was a lesbian… and Bond cured her [Alison Flood on The Guardian] (11/4/15)

A letter in which Ian Fleming asserts that his lesbian Bond girl Pussy Galore “only needed the right man to come along … to cure her psycho-pathological malady” will be sold at auction later this month. The letter, which is also included in the just-published collection of Fleming’s James Bond letters, The Man With the Golden Typewriter, was written in response to a Dr Gibson…In his June 1959 letter to Gibson, Fleming writes that Galore “only needed the right man to come along and perform the laying on of hands in order to cure her psycho-pathological malady”. Gibson was, Fleming’s nephew Fergus Fleming notes in the book, one of the Bond creator’s “most diligent motoring correspondents”, and the letter also thanks him for his “kind invitation” for Bond to join the Aston Martin Owners’ Club

New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators [Jon Marcus on New England Center for Investigative Reporting via The Huffington Post] (2/6/14)

The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty, according to an analysis of federal figures. The disproportionate increase in the number of university staffers who neither teach nor conduct research has continued unabated in more recent years, and slowed only slightly since the start of the economic downturn, during which time colleges and universities have contended that a dearth of resources forced them to sharply raise tuition…Universities and university associations blame the increased hiring on such things as government regulations and demands from students and their families—including students who arrive unprepared for college-level work—for such services as remedial education, advising, and mental-health counseling.

‘It’s very white’: Las Vegas audience exposes Bernie Sanders’ Latino problem [Rory Carroll on The Guardian] (11/9/15)

A mariachi band, a Latino neighbourhood, Spanish language posters and bold immigration pledges: Bernie Sanders was pulling out the stops for Nevada’s Hispanic vote. Short of dancing salsa, the Democratic candidate did all he could to woo this crucial constituency at a rally on a soccer field in Las Vegas on Sunday night. He surrounded himself with Latinos on stage and promised to fight for agricultural workers and to shelter families from deportation. It signalled the start of an effort to narrow Hillary Clinton’s wide lead with the state’s Latinos. There was just one problem: the audience at the Cheyenne sports complex was mostly white. Latinos largely shunned the call to “feel the Bern”, leaving the crowd to dance stiffly to the Mexican music and a question mark over the campaign’s prospects in Nevada.

Humans have created a new top predator that is taking over the Northeast [Jennifer Welsh on Business Insider] (11/1/15)

One recent example is the creation of the coywolf — a hybrid of the coyote and the wolf that is also known as the Eastern coyote. According to a new article from The Economist, their population seems to have reached more than a million. These animals have a completely new genetic makeup: Their genes are about one-quarter wolf DNA and two-thirds coyote DNA; the rest is from domesticated dogs. A 2013 study suggests this dog DNA is mostly from a few specific breeds, including German Shepherds and Doberman Pincers. Human activity likely played a role in the species’ creation. As humans cut down wolves’ forest homes and hunted down their populations, the lack of available partners for wolves led them to search elsewhere for mates, leading them to coyotes and dogs. Scientists think this intermixing began with wild wolves in southern Ontario about a century or two ago. The coywolves’ success is astounding scientists. According to The Economist: “The animal’s range has encompassed America’s entire north-east, urban areas included, for at least a decade, and is continuing to expand in the south-east following coywolves’ arrival there half a century ago. This is astonishing. Purebred coyotes never managed to establish themselves east of the prairies. Wolves were killed off in eastern forests long ago. But by combining their DNA, the two have given rise to an animal that is able to spread into a vast and otherwise uninhabitable territory.”

The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy [Ross Anderson on The Atlantic] (10/13/15)

The Kepler Space Telescope collected a great deal of light from all of those stars it watched. So much light that Kepler’s science team couldn’t process it all with algorithms. They needed the human eye, and human cognition, which remains unsurpassed in certain sorts of pattern recognition. Kepler’s astronomers decided to found Planet Hunters, a program that asked “citizen scientists” to examine light patterns emitted by the stars, from the comfort of their own homes. In 2011, several citizen scientists flagged one particular star as “interesting” and “bizarre.” The star was emitting a light pattern that looked stranger than any of the others Kepler was watching. The light pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation. That would be expected if the star were young. When our solar system first formed, four and a half billion years ago, a messy disk of dust and debris surrounded the sun, before gravity organized it into planets, and rings of rock and ice. But this unusual star isn’t young. If it were young, it would be surrounded by dust that would give off extra infrared light. There doesn’t seem to be an excess of infrared light around this star. It appears to be mature. And yet, there is this mess of objects circling it. A mess big enough to block a substantial number of photons that would have otherwise beamed into the tube of the Kepler Space Telescope. If blind nature deposited this mess around the star, it must have done so recently. Otherwise, it would be gone by now…Boyajian, the Yale Postdoc who oversees Planet Hunters, recently published a paper describing the star’s bizarre light pattern. Several of the citizen scientists are named as co-authors. The paper explores a number of scenarios that might explain the pattern—instrument defects; the shrapnel from an asteroid belt pileup; an impact of planetary scale, like the one that created our moon. The paper finds each explanation wanting, save for one. If another star had passed through the unusual star’s system, it could have yanked a sea of comets inward. Provided there were enough of them, the comets could have made the dimming pattern. But that would be an extraordinary coincidence, if that happened so recently, only a few millennia before humans developed the tech to loft a telescope into space. That’s a narrow band of time, cosmically speaking…Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

Have Green Card, Will Travel: More Immigrants Relocating to Texas [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline] (10/20/15)

[R]ecently, demographers have noticed a surprising new migration pattern: Increasingly, foreign-born professionals are opting to leave their initial U.S. homes, often in California, Florida, Illinois and New York, and pulling up stakes to head to the Lone Star State. Immigrants generally have become much more mobile over the last few decades. And California, the nation’s most populous state, still receives the lion’s share of international migrants. But Texas leads the nation in the growth of its foreign-born population — and that’s because more immigrants are moving there from other states, according to a new report by the Texas Office of the State Demographer. Today, foreign-born migrants are one of the largest drivers of population growth in the nation’s second most populous state. The foreign-born population of Texas, in total numbers and share of the overall population, is greater than at any point since statehood in 1845. One in six Texas residents was born in a foreign country, and roughly 40 percent of them moved from somewhere else in the U.S., according to the Texas Demographer report. This shift has significant policy implications for the state, particularly for education.

An Engineering Theory of the Volkswagen Scandal [Paul Kedrosky on The New Yorker] (10/16/15)

In a powerful book about the disintegration, immediately after launch, of the Challenger space shuttle, which killed seven astronauts in January of 1986, the sociologist Diane Vaughan described a phenomenon inside engineering organizations that she called the “normalization of deviance.” In such cultures, she argued, there can be a tendency to slowly and progressively create rationales that justify ever-riskier behaviors. Starting in 1983, the Challenger shuttle had been through nine successful launches, in progressively lower ambient temperatures, across the years. Each time the launch team got away with a lower-temperature launch, Vaughan argued, engineers noted the deviance, then decided it wasn’t sufficiently different from what they had done before to constitute a problem. They effectively declared the mildly abnormal normal, making deviant behavior acceptable, right up until the moment when, after the shuttle launched on a particularly cold Florida morning in 1986, its O-rings failed catastrophically and the ship broke apart. If the same pattern proves to have played out at Volkswagen, then the scandal may well have begun with a few lines of engine-tuning software. Perhaps it started with tweaks that optimized some aspect of diesel performance and then evolved over time: detect this, change that, optimize something else. At every step, the software changes might have seemed to be a slight “improvement” on what came before, but at no one step would it necessarily have felt like a vast, emissions-fixing conspiracy by Volkswagen engineers, or been identified by Volkswagen executives. Instead, it would have slowly and insidiously led to the development of the defeat device and its inclusion in cars that were sold to consumers. If this was, in fact, the case, then Horn was basically right that engineers were responsible. The scandal wouldn’t have been caused by a few rogue engineers, though, so much as by the nature of engineering organizations themselves. Faced with an expensively engineered diesel engine that couldn’t meet strict emissions standards, Volkswagen engineers “tuned” their engine software. And they kept on tuning it, normalizing deviance along the way, until they were far from where they started, to the point of gaming the emissions tests by detecting test conditions and re-calibrating the engine accordingly on the fly.

Copyrights and Wrongs [Tim Hartford via The Financial Times] (10/6/15)

The truth is that 10 years of copyright protection is probably sufficient to justify the time and trouble of producing most creative work — newspapers, films, comic books and music. Thirty years would be more than enough. But we’re moving in the opposite direction, with copyright periodically and retroactively extended — as though Antoine de Saint-Exupéry or James Joyce could ever have been motivated by the anticipation that, long after their deaths, copyright terms would be pushed to yet more ludicrous lengths. Why don’t we see a more sensible system of copyright? Two words: Mickey Mouse. That is an oversimplification, of course. But the truth is that a very small number of corporations and literary estates have a lot to gain from inordinately long copyright — and since it matters a lot more to them than to the rest of us, they will focus their lobbying efforts and get their way. Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain in 2024 — unless copyright terms are extended yet again.

Nine Things Successful People Do Differently [Heidi Grant Halvorson on Harvard Business Review] (2/25/11)

When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “eat less” or “sleep more” is too vague — be clear and precise. “I’ll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, and whether or not you’ve actually done it.

A history of nudity: Playboy’s censorship is a throwback to the medieval era [Jonathan Jones on The Guardian] (10/14/15)

Playboy is to abolish the nude. Many people will celebrate this, even if the magazine once seen as the bible of sexual liberation is getting out of the business of soft porn because it has been outdone by the internet, and not for any idealistic feminist reason. But don’t open any champagne until you have visited a few art museums. If you look at enough art, you may feel more like putting on a black armband. For this could be the end of civilisation as we know it. All great civilisations have celebrated the naked beauty of women. All barbaric ages have feared it. In the measly middle ages, nudity was loathed and dreaded; the bare flesh of women was an object of hatred, as were witches. A stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral reveals the intensity of medieval contempt for the human body. It shows people worshipping a nude statue – but the pagan idol has horns and is literally demonic…This hatred for the body, enunciated by key Christian thinkers including St Paul, expresses itself in art as a contempt for women, a portrayal of the supposed poisonous truth behind the lie of beauty. When you realise this is what they were rebelling against, it is impossible to keep up the unhistorical, hackneyed view that sees artists like Titian and Rubens as old sexist masters slavering voyeuristically over naked women. Not only do medieval images exclude or demonise the nude, but late medieval portraits in northern Europe cover as much of women’s flesh as they can with tightly fitting headresses. The bodies of women are dangerous, they can bewitch you. By contrast the loving, luscious nudes of the Italian Renaissance can be properly understood not as 500-year-old icons of the patriarchal gaze but liberating, even empowering images of women set free from religious hatred…Surveying art history, it just does not seem that nude images have ever been the best way to oppress anyone. Societies that praise naked beauty tend to be democratic – the nude was invented in ancient Athens and revived by Italian republics – and forward looking. Cultures that fear and suppress naked art are more likely to be religiously hidebound and to control and fear women.

Egypt Vote Is a Sign of Arab Winter [Noah Feldman via Bloomberg View] (11/19/15)

Egypt tried democracy and saw it fail. Can citizens of other Arabic speaking countries credibly hope for improvement in the foreseeable future? It seems their states will remain a global exception to democratic progress. As was the case before 2011, Arab thought leaders will have to ask themselves why dictatorship has been so much more durable in their countries than, say, Latin America, which is also poor, also formerly colonized, and yet has turned the corner to democratization. Some answers include the weakness of civil society and the middle class. But there’s another looming: the failure of the experiment with democratically oriented political Islam. Islamic democracy held the promise of empowering the middle class and generating a locally distinctive, legitimate form of constitutional democracy. Yet in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood was born and was most significant to political life, the experiment failed. Unlike Tunisia, where political Islam compromised and was integrated into democratic life, Egypt will be a decisive example for Arabic-speaking countries for the next generation at least. None of this was inevitable. The explanation for the multiple and varied failures of the Arab Spring isn’t an example of the iron laws of history. If the Tunisian exception has any regional importance, it’s to remind us that under roughly comparable circumstances, different results were possible. A full understanding of the Arab Winter would require careful assessment of what’s actually happened in different countries, and what those developments mean for the future. In the broad view, the civil society component shouldn’t be overlooked. The Nobel committee was onto something when it gave the peace prize to the leaders of four Tunisian civil society institutions. In practice, these figures weren’t the definitive players in the emergence of Tunisian democracy — far from it. But their organizations mattered to the transition, as recognized nongovernmental sources of social organization. When politics seemed to be deadlocked, they had the legitimacy to speak collectively and productively — even though no one ever elected them.

This Newly Declassified Video of the US Testing Chemical Weapons Is Insane [Jason Koebler on Motherboard on Vice] (10/12/15)

It’s no secret that the United States is one of the few countries in the world to have used chemical and biological weapons. But it’s still surprising to watch this newly declassified video, which talks at length about the Navy’s development and testing of biological and chemical weapons, including two large-scale tests on the California and Carolina coasts. The 1952 video, called “Naval Concepts of Chemical and Biological Warfare,” appears to be a training video produced by the US Naval Photographic Center. It details at length “offensive biological and chemical warfare” tactics and capabilities of the Navy, and features footage from two specific tests carried out with non-pathogenic agents in the United States. The video’s narrator does not say what specific chemicals were used in the tests but notes that they are stand-ins for biological weapons.

Guys Retire to Hang With Their Wives. And the Wives? [Suzanne Woolley on Bloomberg News] (10/27/15)

About 60 percent of men cite spending more time with their wives as one of the strongest motivations to retire, according to a new survey based on more than 12,000 defined-contribution plan participants 55 or older. Just 43 percent of women say the same. The research, from Fidelity Investments and Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, is based on 401(k) savers and recent retirees in plans for which Fidelity is the record-keeper…A large chunk of pre-retirees under the age of 60 cite spending time with a spouse or partner as a big reason they want to retire. The older people get, though, the less likely they are to cite this as an incentive…The more money pre-retirees have saved, the likelier they are to want to retire to spend time with their spouse or partner. For women, the data suggest, grandchildren are the big pull. In the survey, 70 percent cited spending more time with their grandkids as one of the strongest incentives to retire. A working paper (PDF) out of the National Bureau of Economic Research, summed up in an article on the Harvard Business Review‘s website,1 found that the arrival of a new grandchild increases by more than 8 percent the probability that a woman approaching retirement age will indeed retire, all other things being equal.

Policing Free Speech at the University of Missouri [Noah Feldman via Bloomberg View] (11/11/15)

The legal issues follow from those I wrote about in March when the University of Oklahoma expelled two fraternity members for leading a racist chant. On the one hand is the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech against state actors like a public university. On the other hand are federal laws that, as interpreted by the Department of Education, require the university to ensure it isn’t a racially or sexually hostile educational environment. In practice, that certainly requires regulating some harassing, discriminatory speech. Reconciling the tension between these laws isn’t easy. The prevailing theory that allows the government to outlaw discriminatory speech acts is that the government isn’t actually prohibiting speech. It’s prohibiting a course of conduct, namely discrimination. Discrimination can be accomplished by a range of means, one of which is speech. There’s not much case law to clarify the right way for courts to think about this analysis.

The Way We’re Testing Antibiotics Is All Wrong [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (10/13/15)

For 50 years, hospitals have used a single test to decide how to treat the most stubborn infections. But according to a growing body of research, that test is now wrong more often than we’d thought. All because of the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that behave one way in lab tests and another way in the human body. The findings have huge implications for how doctors fight the growing problem of so-called superbugs, which can’t be easily treated with antibiotics. The bacteria infect 2 million people each year in the U.S. alone, and kill 23,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Wrongly Convicted Prisoners’ Freedom on Hold Because of Illinois’ Budget Fight [Lolly Bowean on Chicago Tribune] (10/13/15)

Long before he was exonerated of a 1994 home invasion, robbery and sexual assault, Christopher Coleman imagined starting a real estate business in his hometown of Peoria. Coleman, now 41, thought he was steps away from opening that business after he was released in 2013 after nearly two decades in prison. His plan: to use a July payout from the state Court of Claims for his wrongful imprisonment — $220,732 — as seed money. He said he even quit his job and began lining up business deals. But instead of repairing and renting out houses as he hoped, Coleman is one of several wrongly convicted inmates whose compensation has been delayed by the state’s budget impasse. He has no idea when he’ll actually receive his money…After more than four months of negotiations, lawmakers have yet to pass a budget, leaving dozens of agencies, programs and initiatives along with untold number of residents in limbo. The Court of Claims, which handles compensation for the wrongly convicted, cannot make payments to those who are exonerated. That money, based on a formula that considers how long inmates were incarcerated, typically helps them begin a new life, get job training and medical care, and take advantage of educational opportunities.

What Are a Hospital’s Costs? Utah System Is Trying to Learn [Gina Kolata on The New York Times] (9/7/15)

Only in the world of medicine would Dr. Vivian Lee’s question have seemed radical. She wanted to know: What do the goods and services provided by the hospital system where she is chief executive actually cost? Most businesses know the cost of everything that goes into producing what they sell — essential information for setting prices. Medicine is different. Hospitals know what they are paid by insurers, but it bears little relationship to their costs. No one on Dr. Lee’s staff at the University of Utah Health Care could say what a minute in an M.R.I. machine or an hour in the operating room actually costs. They chuckled when she asked. But now, thanks to a project Dr. Lee set in motion after that initial query several years ago, the hospital is getting answers, information that is not only saving money but also improving care…The linchpin of this effort at the University of Utah Health Care is a computer program — still a work in progress — with 200 million rows of costs for items like drugs, medical devices, a doctor’s time in the operating room and each member of the staff’s time. The software also tracks such outcomes as days in the hospital and readmissions. A pulldown menu compares each doctor’s costs and outcomes with others’ in the department. The hospital has been able to calculate, for instance, the cost per minute in the emergency room (82 cents), in the surgical intensive care unit ($1.43), and in the operating room for an orthopedic surgery case ($12). With such information, as well as data on the cost of labor, supplies and labs, the hospital has pared excess expenses and revised numerous practices for more efficient and effective care.

Cautious chic: photographing women, style and beauty in North Korea [Charlotte Jansen and Mihaela Noroc on The Guardian] (10/28/15)

Over the last two years, 30-year-old Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc has travelled the world with a backpack and camera shooting portraits of women. So far she’s visited 45 countries for The Atlas of Beauty, a project she hopes will offer insight into how social, cultural and political values shape and define women’s roles and femininity. Noroc’s latest journey took her to North Korea, where she was able to take almost 30 portraits. Her images hint at the reality of everyday life for women in the secretive state…Noroc explains: “I approached women in the street, accompanied by my two female guides, who helped me explain my project – this was the routine for most of the portraits. In most countries I’ve observed that women smile in front of the camera and that tended to be the case when I shot women in North Korea – but I here I tried to find something more profound, to get them to open up and reveal something more authentic, to see a story in their eyes.”…Though women in North Korea might be unfamiliar with global fashion and beauty because of the regime’s tight control on the flow of information, Noroc noted that this doesn’t mean they are not concerned with their appearance: high heels and conservative outfits – accessorised with a pin of the chest of their country’s leader – are common…Access to the internet or foreign television is almost nonexistent in the country – so entertainment must take different forms. Noroc noted that people loved to sing and dance, with concerts in public squares and mass dances for celebrations. The Moranbong Band, an all-female music group whose members were selected by the country’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un, are “hugely popular, a phenomenon,” the photographer says. “You hear their songs everywhere and everyone knows their lyrics – this singer [pictured below] also sang some of their songs. I also saw a military marching band performing one of their songs.”

Russia’s new princelings: who is Putin’s rock’n’roll daughter? [Stephen Grey, Andrey Kuzmin and Elizabeth Piper on Reuters via The Guardian] (11/11/15)

His younger daughter, Katerina, has largely escaped public attention since her father became president in 2000. But in January this year, a Russian blogger reported that she was active at Moscow State University and had taken the surname Tikhonova, after her grandmother, Yekaterina Tikhonovna Shkrebneva. Examining Tikhonova’s business deals, properties and oligarch connections builds a picture of a new generation of Russia’s ruling elite, and a rare insight into the family life of Russia’s most powerful man. After unconfirmed media speculation, this week Reuters reported that a senior Russian business figure who knew Katerina Tikhonova said she was indeed Putin’s daughter. The news agency said that two senior academics – one at Moscow State University and a scientist with close contacts there – also confirmed her relationship to Putin. Tikhonova, 29, has described herself as the “spouse” of Kirill Shamalov, son of Nikolai Shamalov, a long-time friend of the president. Shamalov senior is a shareholder in Bank Rossiya, which US officials have described as the personal bank of the Russian elite…Tikhonova holds a successful academic post running publicly funded projects at Moscow State University, and helps direct a $1.7bn plan to expand its campus. Her official advisers at Moscow State University include five members of Putin’s inner circle – including two former KGB officers who served with her father in the 1980s when he was deployed to Dresden, in former East Germany. According to the university’s website, she is currently attached to the mechanics and mathematics faculty. She is listed as an author, along with other academics, of a chapter in a maths textbook and at least six scientific papers since 2011. The papers include studies on medicines and space travel; one is listed as a study of how the human body reacts to zero gravity…Tikhonova is also active beyond the university. Under her grandmother’s name, she has competed for years as an acrobatic rock’n’roll dancer. In 2013, she and her dancing partner came fifth in a world championship event in Switzerland. Today, she is chairman of two organising committees of the All-Russian Acrobatic Rock’n’Roll Federation, according to its website. The Federation’s sponsors include Sibur, Novatek and Gazprombank – companies that are co-owned or co-controlled by friends and associates of the president. These people include Timchenko; Kirill Shamalov; and his elder brother, Yury. The same companies are also mentioned on Innopraktika’s website as among its corporate partners.

Post-Mortem: Can We Watch ‘The Leisure Class’ And ‘Project Greenlight’ In Reverse To See What Went Wrong? [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk] (11/9/15)

The odd thing about The Leisure Class is that it’s almost unwatchable, yet it’s not bad in many of the traditional ways. It’s not maudlin. It isn’t hokey or convoluted. It doesn’t make bad creative choices. It’s almost as if it doesn’t make creative choices. It feels like a school assignment where a directing student had to work with a script in a foreign language. At worst, it’s tedious, the kind of story where you can’t stop breaking in to ask “Wait, why are you telling me this?” It feels like someone took the script from Houseguest starring Sinbad and shot it like it was The Firm. Or tried to remake Wedding Crashers with two uncharismatic English guys and shot it as a drama. It’s truly odd. Not so much an unfunny comedy as a thing that doesn’t know whether it’s a comedy…They made the decision to go with Jason Mann largely on the strength of his unique take on their three-minute script assignment, valuing the director-for-hire assignment more highly than the original story. Which is an odd choice. They were going to surround the winner with a professional crew regardless — why choose based on look? In retrospect, this may have been a great way to end up with a director who rarely joked but cared deeply about anti-helation layers. To say nothing of the fact that they hired a director largely based on what he could do with someone else’s script, and then immediately turned around and let him shoot his own…Critically speaking, here’s the track record for the movies that came from the show: Stolen Summer: 36% on RottenTomatoes; The Battle of Shaker Heights: 41%; Feast: 56%; The Leisure Class: 0%; And of course, none of them have been financially successful so far, at least not counting the success of the show. That’s a pretty bad track record, and you could blame the show for that. But is it any worse than any other way of making movies? M. Night Shyamalan is like two for 12 now. Making movies is hard. At the very least, Project Greenlight is a fun cooking experiment. You just might not want to taste the results.

Afghanistan’s female marathon runner defies danger to go the distance [Sune Engel Rasmussen on The Guardian] (10/28/15)

In August, she ran an unofficial marathon from the Paghman Valley to Kabul with three other young women. As they entered the capital, they were bombarded with the kind of insults reserved for Afghan women who have the audacity to do anything out of the ordinary in public. “The children were stoning us, the people said bad words like ‘prostitutes, why don’t you stay at home? You are destroying Islam’,” Zainab recalled. The women had to cut the race short. After that, the father of her training partner, Nilofar, forbade his daughter to run the Bamiyan marathon. Zainab’s own parents are proud of her running, she said. Her mother does worry about her athletic daughter, though she sometimes joins her running around the backyard, along with Zainab’s sisters. Her brother, a student in Germany, has taken up kickboxing and runs regularly with his friends.

Welcome to ‘Norway’, Texas: where Norwegians think ‘crazy’ is normal [Tom Dart on The Guardian] (10/28/15)

Put it down to polite Scandinavian reticence, perhaps. But though Norwegians have been using “texas” as slang for “wild and crazy” for decades, as Texas Monthly reported last week, apparently no one told the residents of the Norwegian Capital of Texas – and yes, there is one. An estimated 30-40% of residents in Clifton, population 3,500, can trace their heritage back to the land of fjords, social progressivism and $15 beers. Thousands of tourists have visited in recent years to see the Norwegian historical sights and festivals. Yet, “texas” as this might sound, the linguistic quirk is news to the locals…They saw the story on the internet last week: it went viral after a Texas Monthly article noted that “texas” is Norwegian slang for a crazy atmosphere – as in “Det var helt texas” – “It was totally nuts!”

Summer same-sex wedding spending exceeded $800 million [Quentin Fottrell on Marketwatch] (11/12/15)

Some 96,000 same-sex couples got married between July 2015 and October 2015, bringing the total number of married same-sex couples in the U.S. to 486,000, which accounts for 45% of all same-sex couples, according to a separate study by research firm Gallup, which interviewed nearly 9,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans. Approximately one in 10 summer weddings in the U.S. was held by same-sex couples. Gallup asked those who report being married or living with a partner whether their spouse or partner is the same sex as them.

Report highlights the obscene price of NFL’s paid patriotism [Lee Carpenter on The Guardian] (11/5/15)

By late Wednesday afternoon the depth of just how much patriotism the defense department has been selling to sports teams had come clear in a report commissioned by Republican senators John McCain and Jeff Flake – both of Arizona. And it was extreme, if not obscene. According to the report, taxpayers spent close to $7m on patriotic displays at professional and college sporting events over the last four years. This included the unfurling of a gigantic flag held by service members at an Atlanta Falcons game, the re-enlistment ceremony for 10 soldiers at Seattle’s Century Link Field and the recognition of Air Force officers at a Los Angeles Galaxy soccer game. In fact the report lists 74 pages of examples where military branches (mostly the National Guard) paid more than 50 sports teams for patriotic acts that were disguised as benevolent contributions by the teams themselves…For years, sports teams have wrapped themselves in gigantic flags like those unfurled across fields for the national anthem. But until the costs for such displays leaked out back in the spring no one much knew the Georgia National Guard paid the Falcons $879,000 the last four years – in part – to have its soldiers hold one of those enormous flags. McCain and Flake’s report leave open the possibility more abuse exists. These were just the contracts the senator’s staffers could find in records searches.

Afghan refugees in Iran being sent to fight and die for Assad in Syria [Saeed Kamali Dehghan on The Guardian] (11/5/15)

Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, promising a monthly salary and residence permits in exchange for what it claims to be a sacred endeavour to save Shia shrines in Damascus. The Fatemioun military division of Afghan refugees living in Iran and Syria is now the second largest foreign military contingent fighting in support of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, after the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. Iranian state-affiliated agencies reported in May that at least 200 Fatemioun members had been killed in Syria since the beginning of the war. How many more have died since is not clear. Iran has always claimed it is participating in an advisory capacity in Syria, dispatching senior commanders to plan and oversee operations, but the Afghan involvement shows it is using other methods.

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06
Nov
15

Roundup – Dark Blarts

Best of the Best:

Why Candidates With No Experience Are Winning Over Voters [Alan Greenblatt on Governing Magazine] (9/25/15)

In August, Robert Gray, a truck driver by trade who spent zero dollars on the race, won the Democratic nomination for governor of Mississippi. Gray hadn’t even bothered informing his mother, who lives with him, that he was running. He also didn’t bother voting for himself. Gray’s situation may sound unusual, but something like it actually seems to occur just about every election cycle. There are plenty of nominations barely worth pursuing around the country in low-profile races against formidable incumbents. But in the South, neither the press nor voters pay much attention to many Democratic primary races, making the region particularly fertile ground for political unknowns to win statewide nominations.

The Most Expensive Place in the World to Live [Nick Timiraos on Real Time Economics on The Wall Street Journal] (9/22/15)

New York City takes the top spot in the annual ranking of the world’s most expensive cities, according to an analysis by UBS. The cost of goods and services was higher in just two other cities—Zurich and Geneva—but they were less expensive than New York after including rent. The Swiss cities were markedly more expensive than in last year’s study because of the Swiss National Bank’s decision in January to discontinue its minimum exchange rate. Prices in Japanese and European cities, meanwhile, fell over the past year as the euro and yen weakened against the dollar. Including rent, other U.S. cities among the most expensive included Chicago (7th), Miami (11th) and Los Angeles (13th). The cheapest cities last year among the 71 surveyed: Kiev, Ukraine, and the Bulgarian capital city, Sofia. Prices were 2.5 times higher in the Swiss cities than in those Eastern European capitals.

Yogi Berra Was One Of A Kind [Rob Arthur on FiveThirtyEight] (9/23/15)

By quality, he was one of the best catchers ever, amassing the fifth-most total wins above replacement at the position and the 11th-most WAR per game.1 By quantity, he played in 13.2 percent of all of the Yankees games in history and more World Series games than any other single player. But more than the obvious accolades — the three Most Valuable Player awards, the 10 World Series wins — Berra was exceptional by virtue of his improbability. As a 19-year-old, Berra participated in the D-Day invasion as a member of the U.S. Navy, fighting from a boat at Omaha Beach, where there were some 2,000 casualties. He was later injured in Marseilles and earned a Purple Heart. After he returned to baseball, he played in just 77 minor-league games before advancing to the majors. Because of his service, Berra didn’t begin his career in earnest until he was 21 years old. Berra was unlikely even as a baseball player: All of 5 feet 7 inches tall, he launched 358 home runs during his career, 90 more than anyone his height or shorter.2 Berra was an unusually disciplined batter, striking out in only 4.9 percent of his plate appearances. That combination of power and plate discipline is exceptionally rare in MLB history.

One Reason Women Aren’t Getting the Promotion: They Don’t Want It [Rebecca Greenfield on Bloomberg News] (9/25/15)

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), incorporates nine studies conducted on various high-achieving groups. Combined, the research indicates that women value power less than men, and the studies try to explain the phenomenon. In one of the studies, conducted on 650 recent MBA graduates, researchers had participants rank their current position in their industry, their ideal position, and the highest position they could realistically attain. Women had no doubt they could “realistically attain” the same level of success as men, but they listed lower ideal positions. Another one of the studies helps explain that finding, by suggesting women have more negative associations with power than men do. “Women expect more stress, burden, conflicts, and difficult trade-offs to accompany high-level positions,” said Alison Wood Brooks, a co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard. One explanation for why power stresses women out: They have less time in which to attain a greater number of goals. In another of the nine studies, researchers asked about 800 working adults to rank their goals, defined as “things that occupy your thoughts on a routine basis, things that you deeply care about, or things that motivate your behavior and decisions.” The women surveyed not only listed more goals, but a smaller proportion of those goals were related to achieving power.

The Joy of Six: Short-lived football rule changes [Paul Doyle and Nick Miller on The Guardian] (9/25/15)

When football first crawled into being with the codification of the first standardised rules in 1863, there was actually no such thing as a specialist goalkeeper, with anyone allowed to catch the ball, but not carry it. However, in 1870 an amendment to the laws was added: ‘The goalkeeper may, within his own half of the field of play, use his hands, but shall not carry the ball.’ For the next 40-odd years (and, admittedly, it might be a slight stretch to call 40 years shortlived), football trundled on fairly well, making additions here and there, but the goalkeeper rule remained – until Roose came along. Roose’s ruse was to exploit the loophole in the ‘no carrying’ law by bouncing the ball up to the halfway line, battering opponents out of the way as he went, from where an attack would be launched. This, as you can imagine, proved unpopular, with several opposing clubs complaining to the FA, to the point that when Roose retired in 1912, the law was altered.

The Risk of a Billion-Dollar Valuation in Silicon Valley [Steven Davidoff Solomon on The New York Times] (9/22/15)

The liquidation preference is among the most important of these protections. This feature provides that the venture capital firm’s investment will be repaid before the founders and employees are rewarded. If the firm has particular leverage, it can negotiate an even more protective form, known as the senior liquidation preference, which provides that the firm will be paid not only before the common stockholders but also before anyone else who bought preferred stock in earlier rounds. These provisions apply in a sale but not in an initial public offering of stock. The idea is to ensure that even if the investment does not perform well, the venture investor will still get back its initial money. According to a recent survey by the law firm Fenwick & West of 37 unicorns — private companies with valuations of $1 billion or more — every investment had a liquidation preference. Let’s reflect on this. In the public markets, you invest your money and there is no guarantee what return you will get. But in Silicon Valley, you can get a guarantee of minimum proceeds in any sale, over and above what other investors receive. It’s a sweet deal, and it goes a long way toward explaining why venture capital firms are comfortable with lofty valuations. Such a guarantee very likely pushes valuations even higher.

Little-Known Candidate Dominates Airwaves in South Carolina Presidential Primary [Tim Higgins on Bloomberg News] (9/24/15)

Robby Wells, the former head football coach of Savannah State University and now a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, has paid for commercials to run 220 times on broadcast stations in Charleston, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach since Aug. 1 as part of his bid for the White House, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political ads. That makes him the biggest buyer among the Democratic presidential hopefuls at the moment in the early primary state.

Hawaii Lawyers Warned Not to Help Medical Marijuana Businesses [Anita Hofschneider on Honolulu Civil Beat] (9/22/15)

Hawaii lawyers can’t help clients apply for high-stakes medical marijuana dispensary licenses authorized under a new state law, according to a formal opinion of the Hawaii Supreme Court Disciplinary Board. Attorneys can provide legal advice regarding the state’s newly enacted medical marijuana dispensary law, but shouldn’t provide legal services to help establish or operate businesses because that would assist in committing a federal crime, the board said. Hawaii legalized medical marijuana 15 years ago, but patients have had to grow their own or rely on the black market for access to their medicine. A new law approved this year allows eight companies to receive licenses to grow and sell marijuana at up to 16 dispensaries as early as next summer. Several entrepreneurs have already hired attorneys to help them prepare applications to enter what’s expected to be a multi-million-dollar industry. But the decision by the Disciplinary Board, an 18-member appointed group made up of volunteers who conduct investigations and prosecutions of attorneys suspected of unethical actions, is bad news for lawyers hoping to get involved in the industry and those who are relying on them. Attorneys who violate ethics rules risk losing their ability to practice law in Hawaii.

Rich Kids Eat a Ton of Fast Food Too [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (9/15/15)

Kids from low-income families are more likely to be obese than wealthier children, research suggests. But the relationship is complex, and scientists are still trying to untangle the links between income and such factors as diet and exercise that contribute to obesity. New data make those connections even more complicated. Low-income kids—from households earning less than $31,500 for a family of four—got about the same percentage of their calories from fast food as wealthier kids, according to a federal survey of more than 5,000 people, including children of all ages, from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Head to head [Jacob Burak on Aeon Magazine] (10/8/15)

The social drama of rivalry, with its hostility and aggression, masks a deeper subconscious dynamic. We might think of our nemesis as the polar opposite of ourselves, but as Kilduff’s research suggests, our rivals are much more like us than we dare admit. While this might seem counter-intuitive, it follows that rivalry can actually be good for us: acknowledging that our rivals share our most essential traits, good and bad, can help us up our game and gain some of the insight we need for greater success.

How Cartrivision’s 1972 VCR Foresaw—And Forfeited—The Time-Shifted Future [Ross Rubin on Fast Company] (9/21/15)

Three years before Sony’s Betamax, more than a decade before Blockbuster, and 25 years before Netflix offered rented movies by mail, a team based in San Jose, California, ushered Americans into the era of time-shifting and on-demand video with the first consumer videotape recorder available in the U.S. Cartridge Television’s Cartrivision could record and play back color-TV programs, play prerecorded videos, act as a closed-circuit security camera, and even play back home movies recorded on its companion video camera. It was an ambitious, versatile machine. Within 13 months, it flopped.

Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice’s Emails Only ‘Mildly Pornographic’ [Craig R. McCoy on The Philadelphia Inquirer via Governing Magazine] (10/20/15)

“Mildly pornographic.” No worse than what “appears commonly in Playboy.” That was what a Pennsylvania board determined late last year when it cleared state Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin of misconduct _ even though he’d received about 50 pornographic emails on state computers.

Obama Administration Hits Back at Student Debtors Seeking Relief [Natalie Kitroeff on Bloomberg News] (10/14/15)

On Tuesday, the Department of Education intervened in the case of Robert Murphy, an unemployed 65-year-old who has waged a three-year legal battle to erase his student loans in bankruptcy. Unlike almost every single form of consumer debt, student loans can be erased only in very rare circumstances. Murphy’s case, which is currently being heard in a federal court in Boston, could make things a little easier for certain borrowers. A win for Murphy would relieve him of $246,500 in debt and could loosen the standard used to determine how desperate someone needs to be to qualify for relief. The court asked the Education Department to weigh in on the matter. In a document submitted to the court on Tuesday, government lawyers urged the federal judges not to cede any ground to borrowers who say they are in dire financial straits. Doing so would imperil “the fiscal stability of the loan program” that has existed for half a century.

The CIA director was hacked by a 13-year-old, but he still wants your data [Trevor Timm on The Guardian] (10/20/15)

The world’s most powerful spy, CIA chief John Brennan, was bested on Monday by a self-described “stoner” 13-year-old and an associate, who broke into his America Online email account and started posting some of its contents on Twitter. At least some of Brennan’s private emails seemed to contain extremely sensitive information including his security clearance application and the social security numbers of several CIA officers.

How bloated pensions contribute to police brutality [Radley Balko on The Washington Post] (10/15/15)

And so as the country is in the midst of a heated discussion about police brutality and police shootings, as the city of Chicago is still sorting out the torture scandal from the 1980s and new allegations about “black sites” and secret interrogations, it brought in a guy who was just profiled in the New York Times as an apologist for police shootings . . . to train the body in charge of investigating police shootings. I’d argue that the fact that this comes just as the mayor was pushing a plan that would let the city underpay its obligation to the police pension fund is no coincidence. The Emanuel administration is sending a clear signal to the police union and its supporters about where it stands in the police brutality debate. And they’re hoping to buy themselves some goodwill. It would also explain why Emanuel recently blamed the city’s increase in homicides on anti-police brutality protest groups like Black Lives Matter, why he defended the promotion of a cop under investigation for helping cover up a murder investigation, why he replaced a police chief who held bad cops accountable with one who promised that he would “[get] cops’ backs,” and the various other decisions he’s made that have left the city’s police department less accountable and less transparent.

The Assassination Papers [Jeremy Scahill on The Intercept]

Drones are a tool, not a policy. The policy is assassination…The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret slides that provides a window into the inner workings of the U.S. military’s kill/capture operations at a key time in the evolution of the drone wars — between 2011 and 2013. The documents, which also outline the internal views of special operations forces on the shortcomings and flaws of the drone program, were provided by a source within the intelligence community who worked on the types of operations and programs described in the slides. The Intercept granted the source’s request for anonymity because the materials are classified and because the U.S. government has engaged in aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers…Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects. They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront.

Snowden Says Hillary Clinton’s Bogus Statements Show a “Lack of Political Courage” [Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept] (10/16/15)

Hillary Clinton twice this week has insisted, contrary to the facts, that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden could have accomplished his goals and avoided punishment if he’d raised his concerns through the proper channels. Clinton first made that assertion at Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, and again at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Friday…During Tuesday’s debate, Clinton said Snowden “could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.” (She also inaccurately claimed that the Snowden files had “fallen into a lot of the wrong hands.”) But media outlets and advocates quickly noted that Snowden was not in fact entitled to whistleblower protections, which do not apply to contractors. Snowden has also maintained that he did try going through established channels, to no avail. And the official response to his leaks strongly suggests that no one in his chain of command was interested in letting his concerns reach the public…PolitiFact rated Clinton’s claim as “mostly false.”

Surge in immigrant driver’s licenses may have spurred more organ donors [Brenna Lyles on The Sacramento Bee] (10/19/15)

Long-debated legislation that granted driver’s licenses to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants may have sparked a recent spike in organ and tissue donor registrations and donations in California, state officials say. Since Assembly Bill 60 went into effect in January, the state’s organ and tissue registry, operated by the nonprofit organization Donate Life California, has seen its donor list grow by 30 percent. At the same time, Sacramento saw a 14 percent surge in organ and tissue donations from deceased people in the first half of this year, compared to the average for the period over the past three years, according to Sacramento’s organ transplant network Sierra Donor Services. Overall, California witnessed an 8 percent rise in deceased organ donations in the same period, found the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Demand for organs remains high across the state. More than 23,000 Californians, including 1,300 people in the Greater Sacramento region, remain on transplant waiting lists, according to Sierra Donor Services.

Germany Appears to Have Bought Right to Host 2006 Tournament [Der Spiegel] (10/16/15)

In what could turn out to be the greatest crisis in German football since the Bundesliga bribery scandal of the 1970s, SPIEGEL has learned that the decision to award the 2006 World Cup to Germany was likely bought in the form of bribes. The German bidding committee set up a slush fund that was filled secretly by then-Adidas CEO Robert Louis-Dreyfus to the tune of 10.3 million Swiss francs, which at the time was worth 13 million deutsche marks. It appears that both Franz Beckenbauer, the German football hero who headed the bidding committee, and Wolfgang Niersbach, the current head of the German Football Federation (DFB), and other high-ranking football officials were aware of the fund by 2005 at the latest.

Obscure, Yet Powerful, Jobs in State and Local Government [Louis Jacobson on Governing Magazine] (9/30/15)

Delaware has long had tax-friendly laws, which is one reason that about half of U.S. public corporations have incorporated in the state. The court that holds jurisdiction over those companies — and, as a result, that wields significant power nationally and even internationally — is the Delaware Court of Chancery. The five members of the court “are among the most respected judges in the country,” said G. Marcus Cole, a Stanford University law professor who has studied Delaware’s role in business regulation. “Academics regard them as among the most scholarly bench to be found anywhere. Corporate lawyers know them by name and temperament in much the same way that others know the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their published opinions and academic articles are influential in other states and with the federal judiciary.”

Heroin Overburdening Foster Care Systems [Sophie Quinton on Stateline via Governing Magazine] (10/9/15)

In Ohio and other states ravaged by the latest drug epidemic, officials say substance abuse by parents is a major reason for the growing number of children in foster care. In Clermont County, east of Cincinnati, more than half the children placed in foster care this year have parents who are addicted to opiates, [Clermont County’s assistant director of child protective services Timothy] Dick said. The number of children living in foster care started rising in 2013 after years of decline. Last year, about 415,000 children were living in foster care, according to federal statistics released last week. Fifteen percent of them hadn’t yet passed their second birthday. It’s not clear how many child-welfare cases nationwide involve parents abusing drugs or alcohol, said Nancy Young, director of the federally funded National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare.

The Taliban Is Capturing Afghanistan’s $1 Trillion in Mining Wealth [Eltaf Najafizada on Bloomberg News] (10/20/15)

The Afghan government will earn about $30 million in 2015 from its mineral sector for the third straight year, far short of a previous projection of $1.5 billion, according to Mines and Petroleum Minister Daud Shah Saba. That’s also a quarter of what smugglers — mostly linked to the Taliban and local warlords — earn annually selling rubies and emeralds, he said…Afghanistan’s struggles to generate cash signal that it could be decades before Kabul’s leaders wean themselves off funds from the U.S. and its allies. U.S. President Barack Obama last week decided to keep 5,500 troops in the country indefinitely after 2016, underscoring the Taliban’s strength after 14 years of war. International donors led by the U.S. are paying for about two-thirds of Afghanistan’s $7.2 billion budget this year. The country’s mineral wealth — estimated at $1 trillion to $3 trillion — is crucial to bridging that gap.

Oklahoma Earthquakes Are a National Security Threat [Matthew Philips on Bloomberg News] (10/23/15)

In the months after Sept. 11, 2001, as U.S. security officials assessed the top targets for potential terrorist attacks, the small town of Cushing, Okla., received special attention. Even though it is home to fewer than 10,000 people, Cushing is the largest commercial oil storage hub in North America, second only in size to the U.S. government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The small town’s giant tanks, some big enough to fit a Boeing 747 jet inside, were filled with around 10 million barrels of crude at the time, an obvious target for someone looking to disrupt America’s economy and energy supply. The FBI, state and local law enforcement and emergency officials, and the energy companies that own the tanks formed a group called the Safety Alliance of Cushing. Soon, guards took up posts along the perimeter of storage facilities and newly installed cameras kept constant surveillance. References to the giant tanks and pipelines were removed from the Cushing Chamber of Commerce website. In 2004, the Safety Alliance simulated a series of emergencies: an explosion, a fire, a hostage situation. After the shale boom added millions of additional barrels to Cushing, its tanks swelled to a peak hoard of more than 60 million barrels this spring. That’s about as much petroleum as the U.S. uses in three days, and it’s more than six times the quantity that triggered security concerns after Sept. 11. The Safety Alliance has remained vigilant, even staging tornado simulations after a few close calls. Now the massive oil stockpile faces an emerging threat: earthquakes. In the past month, a flurry of quakes have hit within a few miles of Cushing, rattling the town and its massive tanks…Now that quakes appear to have migrated closer to Cushing, the issue of what to do about them has morphed from a state issue to one of natural security. The oil in Cushing props up the $179 billion in West Texas Intermediate futures and options contracts traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Not only is Cushing crucial to the financial side of the oil market, it is integral to the way physical crude flows around the country. As U.S. oil production has nearly doubled over the past six years, Cushing has become an important stop in getting oil down from the Bakken fields of North Dakota and into refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. If even a couple of Cushing’s tanks had to shut down, or a pipeline were damaged, the impact could ripple through the market, probably pushing prices up. That outcome is especially likely if a spill were to knock Cushing offline for a period of time—a scenario no less dangerous than a potential terrorist attack.

Feds Investigate Florida Police Money Laundering [Michael Sallah on The Miami Herald via Governing Magazine] (10/26/15)

The ongoing probe follows a Miami Herald series, License to Launder, which showed the task force officers from Bal Harbour and the Glades County Sheriff’s Office posed as money launderers while they jetted into a dozen cities to pick up drug cash in a sting operation to clean money for cartels and other groups with the stated goal of arresting suspects. Ultimately, they kept at least $2.4 million for themselves for arranging the deals — returning the rest of the money to the same criminal groups — but never made any arrests of their own.

Here’s Proof That Age Discrimination Is Widespread in the Job Market [Steve Matthews on Bloomberg News] (10/26/15)

Age discrimination is pervasive in the U.S., despite laws that prohibit it. And the older you are, the more discrimination you face, according to the authors of a National Bureau of Economic Research study out Monday. Older women have it particularly tough.

Drug use now rivals drunk driving as cause of fatal car crashes, study says [Ashley Halsey III on The Washington Post] (9/30/15)

In surveys and focus groups done in two states — Colorado and Washington — regular marijuana users said they felt their habit did not impair their ability to drive and, in some cases, improved it. “They believed that they can compensate for any effects of marijuana, for instance by driving more slowly or by allowing greater headways,” the GHSA report said. “They believed it is safer to drive after using marijuana than after drinking alcohol.”

Nobel Laureates Who Were Not Always Noble [Mark Strauss on National Geographic] (10/6/15)

Danish scientist Johannes Fibiger won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering what he thought was a cancer-causing parasite—a bold idea that turned out to be phenomenally wrong. Fibiger studied wild rats with warty growths, which Fibiger believed was a form of cancer caused by parasitic worms. His Nobel Prize was awarded with the declaration that these findings were “the greatest contribution to experimental medicine in our generation.” Only, it wasn’t. While it’s true that some infections can lead to cancer, his rats’ disease wasn’t caused by parasites. It wasn’t even cancer. The warty bumps in the rats’ stomachs were actually caused by a Vitamin A deficiency, exacerbated by the parasites. Why the Nobel? “The dawn of the microbial age was at the end of the 19th century, and he was in the early 20th century,” says Stanford professor of epidemiology Julie Parsonnet. “People were very excited about this possibility that infections caused everything.” And it certainly didn’t hurt that Fibiger had friends on the Nobel committee.

The Top 10 Counties Where People Are Moving [Mike Macaig on Governing Magazine] (10/7/15)

Counties recording the largest net migration losses were Los Angeles County, Calif., (-53,670); Cook County, Ill., (-49,142); Manhattan, N.Y., (-28,123); and Brooklyn, N.Y., (-27,416). Population losses for these counties are largely offset by international migration, most of which is not reflected in the IRS data.

Hotel sex parties are not free speech: a small Connecticut town’s big legal win [Alan  Yuhas on The Guardian] (10/5/15)

For more than three years, the small Connecticut town of Windsor Locks has spent time, energy and cash to fend off a lawsuit brought by Sharok Jacobi, the owner of a hotel that played host to sex parties and concerts that violated state laws. In 2012 Jacobi sued the town and police department, alleging that they had infringed on free speech and association rights, violated its privacy, and unfairly targeted the hotel because it catered to an African American and Hispanic clientele. Complaints about Jacobi’s hotel began in 2007, when neighbors and staff called police over rowdy parties, fights and at least two gunfights there. Before long, police heard from a man who claimed that he could see sexual acts in the hotel from a cafe across the street. Two liquor control agents met with the tipster at a Dunkin Donuts, and were shown photos of a swingers’ party in the hotel bar. The agents promptly signed up for a party at the hotel, known over the years as Club 91 and the Windsor Lounge, organized by a group called “Hot Couples”. From the hotel bar, they had “a clear view into a sitting area” despite someone’s attempt “to obstruct viewing with plants”, according to court documents…Jacobi also alleged that the secret identity of the cafe informant threw into question police procedures: the concerned citizen was in fact John Moylan, the operator of a competing sex group known as the New England Swingers, and a man with “an obsessive interest in stopping [Hot Couples] events”, according to Jacobi.

Kim Jong-un’s recipe for success: private enterprise and public executions [Andrei Lankov on The Guardian] (10/7/15)

The greatest success of the young dictator has been the reform of agriculture, similar to what the Chinese did in the late 1970s. Fields, while technically state-owned, are given for cultivation to individual households and farmers work for a share of the harvest (30%-70%). The results of the reforms were predictable: the past few years have seen record-level harvests, and North Korea is now close to self-sufficiency in food production. This year a major drought prompted concern but it now seems that farmers, working not for the party’s glory but for their own gain, managed to fix the problem, and this year’s harvest is going to be high – perhaps even a record breaker. If plans for industrial reforms (decentralisation and partial privatisation of what is left of state industries) are taken into account, the general picture seems clear. Kim Jong-un wants to apply to his country a model of authoritarian capitalism, a so-called “developmental dictatorship”…North Korea has a problem not faced by China nor Vietnam: the existence of a rich twin state in the south. South Korea’s per capita income is at least 15 times higher, while its population speaks the same language and is officially part of the same nation, which is supposed to eventually, somehow, unify. To put it in context, the per capita gap between the two German states in the 1980s was merely threefold. This gap is the reason why the North Korean state has maintained a level of isolation no other communist regime could think of: even ownership of a tuneable radio is a crime. However, a relaxation could mean the populace learning about South Korea’s unbelievable prosperity and doing what East Germans did 25 years ago in a rather similar situation. This threat was well understood by Kim Jong-il, and was the major reason why he did not dare to launch reforms. His son made a different decision, but in order to stay in power he cannot afford any political relaxation, so economic liberalisation is now combined with public executions. This gives Kim Jong-un the chance to succeed in reforming his country without being overthrown and lynched by a revolutionary mob. Alas, the price for this strategy, which makes perfect sense to the elite, will be paid by common people.

2,000% Drug Price Surge Is a Side Effect of FDA Safety Program [Robert Langreth and Cynthia Koons on Bloomberg News] (10/6/15)

Colchicine, a gout remedy so old that the ancient Greeks knew about its effects, used to cost about 25 cents per pill in the U.S. Then in 2010 its price suddenly jumped 2,000 percent. That’s just one of the side effects of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration plan to encourage testing of medicines that have been around longer than the modern FDA itself, and so have never gotten formal approval. Companies that do the tests are rewarded with licenses that can temporarily give them monopoly pricing power as most rivals are eased or kicked off the market. The result has been a surge in the cost of drugs used in treatments from anesthesia to heart surgery and eye operations.

Meet the Winners of the World’s First Sugar Baby Beauty Contest [Jaya Saxena on Mic] (9/22/15)

Seeking Arrangement is a website that facilitates sugar dating, which is usually defined as the act of explicitly exchanging goods and/or cash for companionship and often (but not always) sex. While sugar dating has historically been something of an unspoken arrangement, thanks to the rise of the Internet the practice has become more visible, which means an increasing number of women are signing up for the site…Sites like Seeking Arrangement have prompted a slew of pearl-clutching thinkpieces and 20/20 segments warning parents that their daughters are eschewing $8/hr work-study jobs to shack up with wealthy older men. The latest entry in this subgenre is a GQ story by Taffy Brodesser-Akner on the “bold new transactional-love economy,” which polled sugar babies and Daddies from Seeking Arrangement about their experiences. In the piece, which quickly came under fire as exemplary of the double standard against women in sex work, Brodesser-Ackner concluded that sugar dating wasn’t a consensual arrangement, but rather a scam that exploited young women. “These girls think they’re getting what they want,” she wrote. “But you can’t get what you want in this world without a scam, without thinking you are the grifter and not the mark.” When Mic spoke to the sugar babies in the competition, however, they said the website was far from exploitative. Rather, they saw their presence on Seeking Arrangement as a way to help them further their career goals, while simultaneously providing mutually satisfying companionship for older men…If in the sharing economy every hour is a billable one, sugar dating then becomes a sort of two-in-one. It’s a job, but it’s also dating; it’s socializing, but with an extra monetary incentive. It’s a relationship that doesn’t take time or energy away from getting paid. It’s part of the hustle…”As more and more women and men are willing to publicly declare their desire for such a relationship (via posting said desire on a website), more and more people have the opportunity to get up in arms [about it],” she told Mic. “This results in repudiation and moralizing. ‘Those poor young women!’ ‘Those slutty young vixens!'” That form of slut-shaming might stem at least in part from the fact that there are aspects of sugar dating that, while consensual on websites like Seeking Arrangement, mirror non-consensual situations elsewhere. There have been women who have felt pressured to “give it up” after being treated to dinner, just as there are men who feel “entitled” to sex if they buy a woman jewelry. In sugar dating, however, these pressures and expectations are consensually agreed upon beforehand — ideally, before a relationship even begins…But what is perhaps most subversive about sugar dating is how closely it mirrors tropes that are hidden, if not explicitly discussed, in the mainstream dating world. In its purest form, sugar dating is a mutually beneficial arrangement: She gets money, he gets sex or some form of emotional intimacy. On Seeking Arrangement, both parties’ motivations for being in a relationship are laid bare, in a way they wouldn’t be in the IRL dating world. In some ways, this type of mutual honesty about what’s to be expected from a relationship is refreshing…But it also tends to rankle a lot of people — especially because sex and money, two of the biggest taboos in our culture, are both involved. We believe relationships should be free of such sordid context. We don’t think genuine friendships or partnerships are based on such cynical arrangements as sex for money, or money for sex. We’re supposed to get nothing out of our lovers besides emotional support and emotional support is supposed to be free. If nothing else, sugar dating proves this idea dead wrong.

Denmark puts ad in Lebanese newspapers: Dear refugees, don’t come here [Adam Taylor on The Washington Post] (9/7/15)

The advertisement lists a number of factors that would make Denmark an undesirable destination for refugees, including recent legislation that would reduce social benefits to arriving refugees by 50 percent. Pointedly, it notes that anyone hoping to gain permanent residence in Denmark would have to learn Danish. Arabic and English versions of the advertisement, placed by Denmark’s Ministry of Immigration, Integration and Housing, ran in four newspapers on Monday. Denmark has taken a stricter stance on immigration since the center-right Liberal Party formed a minority government in June. While Germany and Sweden have embraced larger numbers of refugees over the past year, Denmark has cut back, imposing laws designed to discourage migrants from traveling to the country, including a severe cut to the benefits offered to refugees.

Instructor at Harris-Stowe gets almost $5 million in racial discrimination suit [Koran Addo on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (11/3/15)

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury has awarded a former Harris-Stowe State University instructor $4.85 million after finding that the historically black university discriminated against the instructor because she is white. The suit, filed in 2012, zeroes in on one particular administrator, accusing her of subscribing to the “Black Power” mantra and working systematically to purge Harris-Stowe’s College of Education of white faculty. The Missouri attorney general’s office, which represented Harris-Stowe, declined to comment on the verdict.

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05
Nov
15

Roundup – Bloodsport & Mentos

Best of the Best:

The Iran I Saw [Christopher Schroeder on Politico] (6/28/15)

This is a tale of two Irans. This is, specifically, the tale of the other Iran. The tale we hear most often focuses on natural resources like oil as their greatest asset or nuclear power as their greatest threat—a narrative frozen in time, stretching back decades with remembered pain on both sides. For many Americans, the reference point for Iran is still centered on the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran over 35 years ago; for others, it has focused on Iranian support for destabilizing regional actors against our interests and costing lives. At the same time, of course, Iranians have their own version of this tale: Many remember well U.S. support for a coup of their elected leadership, our support for a dictatorial regime and later encouragement of a war in Iraq that cost nearly a half-million Iranian lives. Politics, power, mistrust: This is one version of how the media frames discussion of Iran. It’s very real, and it has much caution and evidence to support it. But there’s another tale, one I saw repeatedly in my trip there last month. It was my second visit within the year, traveling with a group of senior global business executives to explore this remarkable and controversial nation. This tale focuses on Iran’s next generation, an entirely new generation that came of age well after the Islamic Revolution, and on human capital, the greatest asset a country can have.  It’s about technology as the driver for breaking down barriers even despite internal controls and external sanctions. People under age 35 represent nearly two-thirds of Iran’s population at this point: Many were engaged in the Green Movement protests against the Iranian presidential election in 2009. Most are utterly wired and see the world outside of Iran every day—often in the form of global news, TV shows, movies, music, blogs, and startups—on their mobile phones.

Welcome to Astana, Kazakhstan: one of the strangest capital cities on Earth [Giles Fraser and Marina Kim in Astana on The Guardian] (7/28/15)

At 30,000 feet, a few lonely lakes polka-dot the landscape. There is no evidence of human activity. There are scarcely any trees and few distinguishing landmarks. On and on it goes – Kazakhstan is the size of western Europe, and so unremittingly flat, it’s as if some gigantic plasterer has skimmed the land. Here wolves outnumber people. Little wonder the Soviets chose this vast emptiness to hide their Gulags and their space programme, and to test their nuclear weapons. Much of it radioactive, it’s an agoraphobic’s vision of hell. And then, out of nowhere, Astana comes glistening into view, all shiny metal and glass, implausibly rising up from the Kazakh steppe like some post-modern lego set that has stumbled into the opening sequence of Dallas. Welcome to Astana, one of the strangest capital cities on earth. There was some early talk of Astana – which means “capital” in Kazakh – being named after the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. After all, his name and vision are omnipresent. Since independence from the USSR in 1991, he was the first – and has been the only – president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, with an electoral victory earlier this year in which he received a comedy 97.7% of the vote…Given the billions of barrels of oil and gas that have been discovered in the country, and its very low population of only 16 million, every Kazakhstani should be a millionaire by now. One look at Astana and you can see where much of the money has gone: everywhere it’s big, flashy signature buildings, all wearing their architects’ names like fashion labels, all competing for attention like a collection of spoiled teenagers insecurely shouting: “Look at me!”

This Medical Charity Made $3.3 Billion From a Single Pill [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (7/7/15)

In 2012, a pill called Kalydeco became the first drug approved to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis (CF) in a small subset of patients. The CF Foundation had since the late 1990s given drugmaker Vertex, which developed Kalydeco, around $150 million in exchange for something unusual—a share of the royalties for any treatment Vertex’s research yielded. Two weeks before the foundation’s December meeting, it sold its royalty rights to an investment company. For $3.3 billion. Suddenly, the CF Foundation was the largest disease-focused charity in the country as measured by net assets. Most medical charities don’t get any money from the research they fund, and none had ever gotten a windfall so big. The CF Foundation now has more to spend on future research than the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association combined. The approach yielded more medical advances as well. Orkambi, another Vertex drug that will treat the most common genetic mutation behind CF, was approved by the FDA last week.

The Hunt for the Financial Industry’s Most-Wanted Hacker [Dune Lawrence on Bloomberg News] (6/18/15)

In any global outbreak, it’s important to identify Patient Zero…In the nine-year online epidemic that helped create cybercrime as we know it, you get “fliime.” That was the name used by somebody who went on the online forum Techsupportguy.com on October 11, 2006, at 2:24 a.m., saying he’d found some bad code on his sister’s computer. “Could someone please take a look at this,” he wrote. Fliime probably didn’t realize this was history in the making. But the malicious program that had burrowed into the PC was a new breed, capable of vacuuming up more user logins and website passwords in one day than competing malware did in weeks. With repeated enhancements, the malware and its offspring became juggernauts of cyber bank robbery—turning millions of computers into global networks of zombie machines enslaved by criminals. Conservative estimates of their haul reach well into hundreds of millions of dollars. Investigators studying the code knew its creator only by aliases that changed almost as frequently as the malware itself: A-Z, Monstr, Slavik, Pollingsoon, Umbro, Lucky1235. But the mystery coder gave his product a name with staying power; he called it ZeuS. Like the procreation-minded god of Greek mythology, this ZeuS fathered powerful descendants—and became a case study of the modern cybercrime industry.

Rain is sizzling bacon, cars are lions roaring: the art of sound in movies [Jordan Kisner on The Guardian] (7/22/15)

It is a central principle of sound editing that people hear what they are conditioned to hear, not what they are actually hearing. The sound of rain in movies? Frying bacon. Car engines revving in a chase scene? It’s partly engines, but what gives it that visceral, gut-level grist is lion roars mixed in. To be excellent, a sound editor needs not just a sharp, trained ear, but also a gift for imagining what a sound could do, what someone else might hear. Lievsay is one of the best. He won an Academy award in 2014 for his work on Gravity. He was awarded the 2015 Career Achievement award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors society. Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, Do The Right Thing – his work. He is also the only sound editor the Coen Brothers work with, which means that he is the person responsible for that gnarly wood chipper noise in Fargo, the peel of wallpaper in Barton Fink, the resonance of The Dude’s bowling ball in The Big Lebowski and the absolutely chilling crinkle of Javier Bardem’s gum wrapper in No Country for Old Men. Trying to sum up what makes Lievsay special, Glenn Kiser, the head of the Dolby Institute and the former head of Skywalker Sounds, told me: “What separates tremendously gifted designers comes down to taste. Skip has an unfailing sense for the right sound, and how to be simple and precise. He’s not about sound by the pound.” Jonathan Demme, who first worked with Lievsay on The Silence of the Lambs, put it more concisely: “He’s a genius.”

The California “Energy Miracle” [Dan Kopf on Priceonomics] (8/10/15)

California’s per capita electricity consumption plateaued in 1970, while the rest of the United States saw a substantial increase. And, like many advocates of energy efficiency initiatives, Chu implied that this trend is evidence that California’s energy efficiency policies have been effective. This seems sensible. But is it true? In his paper, “California energy efficiency: Lessons for the rest of the world, or not?”, the environmental economist Arik Levinson challenges this assumption. He suggests this relationship is a classic case of spurious correlation. “The vast majority of California’s apparent conservation relative to the rest of the country comes from coincidental features of geography and demographics,” writes Levinson. In a subsequent paper and on the Freakonomics radio show, Levinson voiced his skepticism not just about the impact of California’s energy efficiency policies, but on energy efficiency policy more generally.

How Russia’s ‘most controversial artist’ persuaded his interrogator to change sides [Ivan Nechepurenko for The Moscow Times, part of the New East network on The Guardian] (7/28/15)

When investigator Pavel Yasman was tasked with interrogating performance artist Petr Pavlensky, known for his shocking political protests, he never imagined that their conversations would change his life. After several months interviewing the St Petersburgbased artist as part of a government case against him, Yasman quit his job at Russia’s Investigative Committee – described as the equivalent of America’s FBI – and decided to join the team supporting the artist, who has become known across Russia for his wince-inducing stunts, including sewing his mouth shut, wrapping himself in barbed wire, and nailing his scrotum to the Red Square.

Millennials: Living on the Edge of the Big City [Tim Henderson on Stateline] (7/23/15)

Millennials like Piirto, the generation born after 1980 and the first to come of age in the new millennium, still love urban areas but are finding they want more space, affordability, cars and the parking spaces for them as they gain more wealth and get ready to settle down and have children. Many millennials see close-in suburbs like Hoboken, with its youthful vibe and picture-window views of Manhattan’s skyline, as a likely compromise…As the leading edge of the generation reaches its child-rearing age, choosing where to live is increasingly urgent. And it’s one many local governments are responding to in a desire to attract or retain the economic activity and tax dollars created by what’s now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Communities are making way for more dense and affordable development, with retail stores within walking distance and public transportation, for an age group that has shunned cars out of economic necessity or preference. It’s happening in the Virginia commuter suburbs west of Washington, D.C., for example. And Hunterdon County, New Jersey, an hour’s drive from Hoboken, has devised a strategy to remake itself and stem its millennial exodus. The payoff is great if communities can attract or retain millennials, as they tend to be highly educated and to bring about greater economic productivity, according to research published last year by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

The reckless plot to overthrow Africa’s most absurd dictator [Andrew Rice on The Guardian] (7/21/15)

When the employees of Songhai Development, an Austin building firm, arrived at work on Monday 5 January, they discovered the FBI had visited their offices over the weekend and seized all the company’s computers. The company’s owner, Cherno Njie, was spending the holidays in west Africa. But Doug Hayes, who managed construction for Njie, expected his boss back at any moment – they had an apartment project that was about to face an important zoning commission hearing…By the end of that Monday, Njie’s name was all over the international news. He had been arrested as he got off a plane at Dulles international airport near Washington DC, and charged with organising a failed attempt to overthrow Yahya Jammeh, the military ruler of the Gambia, a slender riverine nation of fewer than 2 million people. One alleged co-conspirator, a Gambian who had served with the US army, had already confessed to US investigators, telling them he was one of a small group of men from the diaspora who had taken part in a botched nighttime attack in December on Jammeh’s residence. The outcome was disastrous, both for the men involved and for the long-suffering citizens of the Gambia. But back in America, it played as a weird, farcical tale. “Meet The Man Who Wanted To Rule The Gambia”, read the headline on a Buzzfeed news story, above a photo from Njie’s LinkedIn profile. The alleged coup plotters were middle-aged immigrants, who had made good lives for themselves in America over the course of decades, with careers, wives, children, savings, suburban houses, citizenship – the whole archetypal dream. They only visited the Gambia occasionally, if at all, and they had little connection to politics in their homeland. What could have possessed them to risk everything in a foolhardy attempt to topple one of the world’s strangest dictators?

Confessions of a Seduction Addict [Elizabeth Gilbert on The New York Times] (6/24/15)

If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different. (The novel doesn’t always win out over the familiar, mind you, but it often does.) The trick was to study the other woman and to become her opposite, thereby positioning myself to this man as a sparkling alternative to his regular life.

Unhealthy Fixation [William Saletan on Slate] (7/15/15)

The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all declared that there’s no good evidence GMOs are unsafe. Hundreds of studies back up that conclusion. But many of us don’t trust these assurances. We’re drawn to skeptics who say that there’s more to the story, that some studies have found risks associated with GMOs, and that Monsanto is covering it up. I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust. Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes. Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case. If you’re concerned about pesticides and transparency, you need to know about the toxins to which your food has been exposed. A GMO label won’t tell you that. And it can lull you into buying a non-GMO product even when the GE alternative is safer.

The Father of the Emoticon Chases His Great White Whale [Rachel Wilkinson on Narrative.ly]

Few inventions are so universally popular as the emoticon — an estimated six billion are sent every day —or as prescient — when the emoticon was created in 1982, the world’s best-selling computer was the month-old Commodore 64, so named for its then cutting-edge sixty-four kilobytes of RAM. But its birth was less an epiphanic moment than an office joke. Fahlman invented the smiley when his CMU colleagues were having trouble recognizing sarcasm on an electronic bulletin board. The boards were a precursor to today’s Internet forums and included “flame wars,” heated debates between users. The need for a “joke marker” arose after a series of posts speculating about various things that could happen in a free-falling elevator. Would a pigeon in the elevator keep flying? Would a lit candle go out? What would a puddle of mercury do? It was “tech-nerd humor,” explains Fahlman. But the whole thing went off the rails when some users misinterpreted the messages as real elevator safety warnings.

Whistle-blower: How doctor uncovered nightmare [Laura Berman on The Detroit News]

Doctors rotated through Fata’s practice, perhaps staying long enough to find evidence of disorganization and dysfunction, rather than proof of ill intent. But by July 4, 2013, when Maunglay first looked in on Fata’s patient, he was well-situated to uncover deeper wrongs: He had caught Fata in an outright lie a few months before, when Fata had insisted the clinics were enrolled in a professional quality program. Maunglay’s growing distrust and disenchantment with his employer had led him a few weeks earlier to give notice of his resignation, effective Aug. 9 — enough time to help patients move to new doctors, to transfer records, without disturbing their lives or disrupting the practice. During that window of waiting, he encountered Flagg. That July 4 evening, after seeing Fata’s patient at Crittenton in Rochester Hills, he shared the case fundamentals with his wife [a radiology resident]. Even if she hadn’t been eight months pregnant and tired, she would have been baffled by her husband’s description of the patient’s condition and treatment. He ticked off the notes from the patient’s chart — all normal readings — and then the cancer diagnosis, the chemotherapy drug used to treat multiple myeloma. “Are you trying to trick me?” his wife asked, confused. Flagg talked that night to her husband, Steve Flagg, too, explaining that the doctor who’d visited her asked a lot of questions about her diagnosis. “It was as if he didn’t think I had cancer,” she confided, with hope in her voice.

Is organic food any healthier? Most scientists are still skeptical. [Brad Plummer on Vox] (6/5/15)

In 2009, the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency reviewed 67 studies on this topic and couldn’t find much difference in nutrient quality between the two food types. In 2012, a larger review of 237 studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine also found that organic foods didn’t appear to be any healthier or safer to eat than their conventionally grown counterparts. But there have long been dissenters who argue that there must be some health benefits to organic. And a July 2014 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, led by Carlo Leifert of Newcastle University, reopened this debate by adding a small twist. The researchers’ reviewed 347 previous studies and found that certain organic fruits and vegetables had higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally grown crops. Unfortunately, this doesn’t prove very much by itself. No one knows if those moderately higher levels of antioxidants actually boost your health. For that to happen, they’d have to be absorbed into your bloodstream and distributed to the right organs — and there just hasn’t been much good research showing that. For now, there’s little evidence to suggest concrete health benefits from eating organic.

The surprisingly sad saga of the Oregon State Library Girl [EJ Dickson on The Daily Dot] (2/19/15)

The transition from student to Internet porn celebrity has not been easy for Sunderland. Aside from the public indecency citation, which comes with a fine of up to $6,250, she’s lost friends over the incident, as well as earned the censure of her former OSU student colleagues…Sunderland’s parents, who both work at an Oregon hospital, weren’t thrilled, and she was also put in the unenviable position of having to explain to her grandparents both her criminal record and her new adult career. But after the porn website BangYouLater magnanimously offered to relieve the charge (but not before releasing numerous splashy press releases about the infamous Oregon State Library Girl), Sunderland apparently decided to lean into her newfound fame. She says she’s pursuing many business opportunities in the vein of modeling, and her manager says she’s been camming on her own website, Playwithkendra.com, as of Valentine’s Day. Although she’s been getting porn offers, she doesn’t want to pursue them, though, she says, “it’s not my decision at this time.”

Addiction is not a disease: A neuroscientist argues that it’s time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse [Laura Miller on Salon] (6/27/15)

This conception of addiction as a biological phenomenon seemed to be endorsed over the past 20 years as new technologies have allowed neuroscientists to measure the human brain and its activities in ever more telling detail. Sure enough, the brains of addicts are physically different — sometimes strikingly so — from the brains of average people. But neuroscience giveth and now neuroscience taketh away. The recovery movement and rehab industry (two separate things, although the latter often employs the techniques of the former) have always had their critics, but lately some of the most vocal have been the neuroscientists whose findings once lent them credibility. One of those neuroscientists is Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself, also the author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.” Lewis’s argument is actually fairly simple: The disease theory, and the science sometimes used to support it, fail to take into account the plasticity of the human brain. Of course, “the brain changes with addiction,” he writes. “But the way it changes has to do with learning and development — not disease.” All significant and repeated experiences change the brain; adaptability and habit are the brain’s secret weapons. The changes wrought by addiction are not, however, permanent, and while they are dangerous, they’re not abnormal. Through a combination of a difficult emotional history, bad luck and the ordinary operations of the brain itself, an addict is someone whose brain has been transformed, but also someone who can be pushed further along the road toward healthy development. (Lewis doesn’t like the term “recovery” because it implies a return to the addict’s state before the addiction took hold.) “The Biology of Desire” is grouped around several case studies, each one illustrating a unique path to dependency…Each of these people, Lewis argues, had a particular “emotional wound” the substance helped them handle, but once they started using it, the habit itself eventually became self-perpetuating and in most cases ultimately served to deepen the wound. Each case study focuses on a different part of the brain involved in addiction and illustrates how the function of each part — desire, emotion, impulse, automatic behavior — becomes shackled to a single goal: consuming the addictive substance. The brain is built to learn and change, Lewis points out, but it’s also built to form pathways for repetitive behavior, everything from brushing your teeth to stomping on the brake pedal, so that you don’t have to think about everything you do consciously. The brain is self-organizing. Those are all good properties, but addiction shanghais them for a bad cause.

Preparing for the Impact of Driverless Cars [Tory Gattis on New Geography] (8/19/15)

[Y]es, there will be fewer cars, but I suspect there will be a similar number of car *trips* (for example, one taxi providing 20 trips/day instead of 10 owned cars each providing two trips/day), and that means just as much wear and tear on the roads,unless a lot more car sharing happens (i.e. one vehicle carrying multiple people on separate trips at the same time)…A key question is how much car sharing will occur, which reduces prices and increases efficiency by picking up and dropping off multiple people along routes. It can be a bit awkward sharing a vehicle with strangers. I would not be surprised to see someone like Uber custom design a vehicle with individual personal compartments. Imagine 5-6 private individual seating compartments in a 6-door SUV-sized vehicle. When it pulls up, an indicator tells you which door to get into for your compartment, and then alerts you again when it’s time for you to get out, based on the destination you put into your smart phone. Private ride, shared prices and efficiency – best of both worlds. Mass adoption of shared rides would solve our traffic congestion problems almost overnight.

Why some billionaires are bad for growth, and others aren’t [Ana Swanson on The Washington Post] (8/20/15)

A new study that has been accepted by the Journal of Comparative Economics helps resolve this debate. Using an inventive new way to measure billionaire wealth, Sutirtha Bagchi of Villanova University and Jan Svejnar of Columbia University find that it’s not the level of inequality that matters for growth so much as the reason that inequality happened in the first place. Specifically, when billionaires get their wealth because of political connections, that wealth inequality tends to drag on the broader economy, the study finds. But when billionaires get their wealth through the market — through business activities that are not related to the government — it does not.

Rape, ignorance, repression: why early pregnancy is endemic in Guatemala [Linda Forsell and Kjetil Lyche on The Guardian] (8/27/15)

Last year, 5,100 girls under 15 became pregnant in Guatemala. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of 10- to 15-year-olds who gave birth increased by almost 25%. According to the UN population fund (UNFPA), Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region in the world where births to girls under 15 are on the rise. The agency predicts the increase will continue. Cultural practices, endemic violence and the hold of the Catholic church over decisions on reproductive health make girls in Guatemala easy prey for abuse and vulnerable to early pregnancy…Between January 2012 and March 2015, the National Institute of Forensic Sciences registered 21,232 cases of rape; so far, guilty verdicts have been reached in only 974 of them…An analysis of pregnancy among adolescents found that for girls under 14 the biggest threat of sexual violence comes from their own fathers. One out of four reported cases involved a girl’s father, while 89% of cases involved a family member or someone known to the family…Resistance to introducing sex education to the curriculum is fierce, primarily from the Catholic church, which believes talking about sex would encourage young people to have sexual relationships…In Guatemala, girls are legally allowed to marry at 14, with their parents’ consent. But among younger girls, forced marriage is not uncommon. Roughly 30% of young women between the ages 20 and 24 were married before they were 18. About 7% were married by 15.

Making Decisions in a Complex Adaptive System [Farnam Street Team on Farnam Street Blog] (8/24/15)

One mistake we make is extrapolating the behaviour of an individual component, say an individual, to explain the entire system. Yet when we have to solve a problem dealing with a complex system, we often address an individual component. In so doing, we ignore Garrett Hardin’s first law of Ecology, you can never do merely one thing and become a fragilista. [“They think that the reasons for something are immediately accessible to them, even if they have no clue…The fragilista defaults to thinking that what he doesn’t see is not there, or what he does not understand does not exist. At the core, he tends to mistake the unknown for the nonexistent.”]

“Cowboy Doctors” and Health Costs [Zara Zhang on Harvard Magazine] (September-October 2015)

Who’s driving up U.S. healthcare costs? A recent study by Harvard professors and colleagues revealed that the culprits may be “cowboy doctors”—physicians who provide intensive, unnecessary, and often ineffective patient care, resulting in wasteful spending costing as much as 2 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product—hundreds of billions of dollars annually. The authors, including Eckstein professor of applied economics David Cutler and assistant professor of business administration Ariel D. Stern, found that physicians’ beliefs in clinically unsupported treatment procedures can explain as much as 35 percent of end-of-life Medicare expenditures, and 12 percent of Medicare expenditures overall.

The man who mistook his wife for a hat [Oliver Sacks on The London Review of Books] (5/19/83)

His visual acuity was good: he had no difficulty seeing a pin on the floor, though sometimes he missed it if it was placed to his left. He saw all right, but what did he see? I opened out a copy of the National Geographic Magazine, and asked him to describe some pictures in it. His eyes darted from one thing to another, picking up tiny features, as he had picked up the pin. A brightness, a colour, a shape would arrest his attention and elicit comment, but it was always details that he saw – never the whole. And these details he ‘spotted’, as one might spot blips on a radar-screen. He had no sense of a landscape or a scene. I showed him the cover, an unbroken expanse of Sahara dunes. ‘What do you see here?’I asked. ‘I see a river,’ he said. ‘And a little guesthouse with its terrace on the water. People are dining out on the terrace. I see coloured parasols here and there.’ He was looking, if it was ‘looking’, right off the cover, into mid-air, and confabulating non-existent features, as if the absence of features in the actual picture had driven him to imagine the river and the terrace and the coloured parasols. I must have looked aghast, but he seemed to think he had done rather well. There was a hint of a smile on his face. He also appeared to have decided the examination was over, and started to look round for his hat. He reached out his hand, and took hold of his wife’s head, tried to lift it off, to put it on. He had apparently mistaken his wife for a hat! His wife looked as if she was used to such things.

The ‘Dark, Paradoxical Gift’ [Oliver Sacks on The New York Review of Books] (4/11/91)

Hull’s description of the steady loss of his own visual images, memories, concepts, etc., is strongly suggestive to me of the development of a cortical blindness—in his case, owing not to any primary injury of the brain, but to the fact that the visual cortex now has nothing to work with: it cannot manufacture images indefinitely, when there is no longer any stimulus or input from the eyes. There may also be a slow process of degeneration in the cortex, with the cessation of neural input from the eye. Thus although it is the eyes that are damaged in the first place with him, this goes on to a sort of cortical blindness: it is the phenomenology of central blindness, and a sort of ideational blindness, which is so richly described in his book. Thus, in one entry (What Do I Look Like? June 25, 1983) he speaks of the loss of his shoulder, his face, his “appearance,” his self: “When I was about seventeen I lost the sight of my left eye. I can remember gazing at my left shoulder and thinking, “Well, that’s the last time I’ll see you without looking in a mirror!” To lose the shoulder is one thing, but to lose one’s own face poses a new problem. I find that I am trying to recall old photographs of myself, just to remember what I look like. I discover with a shock that I cannot remember. Must I become a blank on the wall of my own gallery? To what extent is loss of the image of the face connected with loss of the image of the self? Is this one of the reasons why I often feel I am a mere spirit, a ghost, a memory? Other people have become disembodied voices, speaking out of nowhere, going into nowhere. Am I not like this too, now that I have lost my body?”

The Pig Tooth That Spurred A Century Of Debate About Evolution [Esther Inglis-Arkel on io9] (6/19/15)

Nebraska Man’s legacy, in the scientific community, ended with a whimper. In the creationist community, Nebraska Man’s legend lives on. A quick search for Nebraska Man brings up the requisite Wikipedia entry, and then creationist site after creationist site. To a certain extent, that’s understandable. When Osborn announced the finding of primate fossils, newspapers, journals, and the scientifically-minded responded not just with enthusiasm but with an overwhelming smugness. Some wanted to name Nebraska Man after William Jennings Bryan, with the understanding that Nebraska Man was the more intelligent and sophisticated of the two. This built up a lot of bad will, which has been vented ever since. On the other hand, most sites make the point that no one would have been fooled into thinking that Nebraska Man existed if no one believed in evolution. While true, this is a bit like saying that people who don’t believe in mammals won’t get fooled into believing in Bigfoot. It’s not wrong, but it’s also not right in a very important way.

U.S. doctor sanctioned for ‘abhorrent and abnormal’ troop training [John Schiffman on Reuters] (6/19/15)

A state board revoked the license of a former U.S. Army doctor on Friday, finding that he plied students with hypnotic drugs during battlefield-trauma training and performed dangerous procedures, including intentionally inducing shock. The doctor, John Henry Hagmann, was cited for training he provided in 2012 and 2013 in Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and Great Britain. Students testified on Friday that Hagmann also performed penile nerve blocks and instructed them to insert catheters into one another’s genitals…Reuters reported on Wednesday that military officials had long known about Hagmann’s methods. A four-star general briefly halted them in 2005, but the doctor resumed his government contracts, earning at least $10.5 million since then.

Drug cops took a college kid’s savings and now 13 police departments want a cut [Christopher Ingraham on The Washington Post] (6/30/15)

In February 2014, Drug Enforcement Administration task force officers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport seized $11,000 in cash from 24-year-old college student Charles Clarke. They didn’t find any guns, drugs or contraband on him. But, according to an affidavit filled out by one of the agents, the task force officers reasoned that the cash was the proceeds of drug trafficking, because Clarke was traveling on a recently-purchased one-way ticket, he was unable to provide documentation for where the money came from, and his checked baggage had an odor of marijuana. (He was a marijuana smoker.) Clarke’s cash, which says he he spent five years saving up, was seized under civil asset forfeiture, where cops are able to take cash and property from people who are never convicted of — and in some cases, never even charged with — a crime…Two local agencies were involved in the seizure of Clarke’s cash: the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport Police, and the Covington Police Department, which is the home office of the DEA task force officer who detained and spoke with Clarke. But according to the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit civil liberties group now representing Clarke in court, 11 additional law enforcement agencies — who were not involved in Clarke’s case at all — have also requested a share of Clarke’s cash under the federal asset forfeiture program. They include the Kentucky State Police, the Ohio Highway Patrol, and even the Bureau of Criminal Investigations within the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

The wolves of Jeff City: Sexual harassment at the Capitol [Jason Hancock and Steve Kraske on The Kansas City Star] (6/26/15)

The isolation of a small-city capital dominated by powerful men away from home — and the idea of what happens in Jefferson City stays there — makes the place hostile territory for women pursuing careers in state government. A recent Harvard study found that geographic isolation of state Capitols reduces accountability. And out of 197 seats in the Missouri General Assembly, only 49 are held by women. In the House, four of the 12 leadership positions are held by women. In the Senate, three of 11 leaders are women.

Americans Are on the Move — Again [Tim Henderson on Stateline] (6/25/15)

Historically, about 17 percent of families move in a given year, but the recession knocked that number down as low as 11 percent, said Kimball Brace, president of Virginia-based Election Data Services. After two straight years of improvement, the number of moving families has partially recovered to about 15 percent…By next year it should be clearer how the moves will affect political power, Brace said. But some Sun Belt states already are expected to gain congressional seats at the expense of Northern states where outbound moves are picking up. Based on current population growth and loss trends, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Virginia would gain congressional seats in 2020, Election Data Services estimated this year. Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia would lose seats. Many areas received a large influx of people last year compared with 2013: Hillsborough County, Florida, Clark County (Las Vegas), Nevada, San Joaquin County (Stockton), California, Pinal County (south of Phoenix), Arizona, and Montgomery County (northwest of Nashville), Tennessee. Other counties saw a bigger exodus last year: Cook County (Chicago), Illinois, which lost more than 48,000 people to moves, 17,000 more than the year before; Fairfax County, Virginia, a District of Columbia suburb; Brooklyn and Queens, New York, and Los Angeles County, California.

Documenting Evil: Inside Assad’s Hospitals of Horror [Adam Ciralsky on Vanity Fair] (6/11/15)

On a stifling day in August 2013, a police photographer with chiseled features and a military bearing moved hurriedly about his office in Damascus. For two years, as Syria’s civil war became ever more deadly, he lived a double life: regime bureaucrat by day, opposition spy by night. Now he had to flee. Having downloaded thousands of high-resolution photographs onto flash drives, he snuck into the empty office of his boss and took cell-phone pictures of the papers on the man’s desk. Among them were execution orders and directives to falsify death certificates and dispose of bodies. Armed with as much evidence as he could safely carry, the photographer—code-named Caesar—fled the country. Since then, the images that Caesar secreted out of Syria have received wide circulation, having been touted by Western officials and others as clear evidence of war crimes. The pictures, most of them taken in Syrian military hospitals, show corpses photographed at close range—one at a time as well as in small groupings. Virtually all of the bodies—thousands of them—betray signs of torture: gouged eyes; mangled genitals; bruises and dried blood from beatings; acid and electric burns; emaciation; and marks from strangulation. Caesar took a number of these pictures, working with roughly a dozen other photographers assigned to the same military-police unit. But Caesar himself, like the intelligence operation of which he became a part, has remained in the shadows. He appeared only once in public, last summer, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he wore a hood and spoke through a translator. He spoke briefly, and in a restricted setting, though I have been able to obtain a copy of his complete testimony. He sought and was granted asylum in a Western European country whose name Vanity Fair has agreed not to disclose, for his personal safety.

The $80 Million Fake Bomb-Detector Scam—and the People Behind It [Jeffrey E. Stern on Vanity Fair] (6/24/15)

The “bomb detectors” sold to Iraq—and, it would later emerge, the versions bought by security forces in dozens of other countries—were based on a gag gift that had been around for decades. When the group modified the devices to sell them all over the world, they invented technical-sounding names like the A.D.E. 651, the Quadro Tracker, the Positive Molecular Locator, the Alpha 6, and the GT200. But all of them were simply rebranded versions of a hollow, five-ounce plastic toy sold as “Gopher: The Amazing Golf Ball Finder!,” whose packaging claims, limply, that “you may never lose a golf ball again!” Even as a toy, the Gopher is unimpressive. It would barely pass muster as a prop in a fourth grader’s camcorded Star Wars tribute. It consists of a cheap plastic handle with a free-swinging antenna, and the way it works is simple: When you tilt the device to the right, the antenna swings right. When you tilt it to the left, the antenna swings left. If you’ve been primed by the right sales pitch, you believe that the antenna has moved as a result of something called nuclear quadrupole resonance, or electrostatic attraction, or low-frequency radio waves bouncing off the ionosphere—each force supposedly drawing the antenna toward the substance you’re scanning for, such as, in the beginning, “the elements used in all golf balls.” Because the salesman is glib and confident, or because people around you aren’t questioning it, or because your superior has ordered you to use it, you ignore the far more obvious force that has actually moved the antenna: gravity. There’s a psychological phenomenon at play, too. It’s known as the ideomotor effect, and it’s the same dynamic that sells Ouija boards: you move something, but persuade yourself you didn’t move it on your own. The phenomenon has been known for centuries—at least since prospectors began using dowsing rods to look for oil and water…Though the device seems plainly absurd, the list of victims is long and far-reaching. The A.D.E. was sold to the Lebanese army, to the Mexican army, to the police in Belgium, and to the Mövenpick Hotel Group’s property in Bahrain. It was sold in Romania and the republic of Georgia. In Asia, there were clients in Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Pakistan, and Vietnam. In the Middle East, the device made it to Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran. In Africa, it was bought by Kenya, Libya, Niger, and Tunisia. But no country went for the A.D.E. the way Iraq did. By 2009, the device was everywhere…Joanne Law has traveled to conferences to give warnings about the fake detectors, but there’s no international mechanism for recalling a dangerous device en masse. In some cases, the device has been phased out by local militaries and police forces, but that hasn’t happened everywhere. A year after McCormick’s conviction, the Egyptian military began testing an apparent adaptation of McCormick’s device called the C-Fast, claiming it can detect both AIDS and hepatitis. Last June, 38 people were killed at Jinnah International Airport, in Karachi, when attackers with suicide bombs and rocket launchers got past the airport security force, which has admitted to relying on the A.D.E. 651. Another version of the device was reportedly being used in Thailand. Mexican police looking for drugs have incorporated the device into their stop-and-search procedures; if they ever acknowledge that the device is a fraud, the convictions resulting from those searches would be vulnerable to litigation. In some countries, sheer corruption keeps the device in the hands of soldiers and policemen. Despite the multiple convictions in Britain—and despite the conviction in Iraq of the country’s bomb-squad commander for taking bribes—officials in Baghdad continue to defend the A.D.E. 651. The exact number of people killed and injured because security forces relied on the device is impossible to know, but it is surely well into the hundreds. And the number will rise. As of this writing, Iraq continues to protect itself from terror attacks with a modified golf-ball detector.

‘We Assume the Bad Thing Has Already Happened’ [Michael Riley on Bloomberg News] (6/19/15)

EMC, one of the world’s biggest makers of data storage systems, is a particularly juicy target for cyberspies. With revenue of $24.4 billion last year, the company is a Big Data icon, the leading provider of products and services for mass storage and analysis. Intruders see EMC as a potential gateway to the secrets of banks, technology companies, casinos, power plants, militaries, and governments. Every day, devices protecting EMC’s 60,000 computers register 1.2 billion “events,” a broad term that includes probes by hackers looking for vulnerabilities to exploit later. Between 60 and 80 of those events are serious enough that they’re assigned to someone on the incident response center’s 28-person team for action. About eight times a year, a breach is elevated to what EMC calls internally a “declared incident.” It’s the corporate equivalent of DEFCON 1. Hackers have been identified inside the network, possibly already stealing data. The company makes almost none of those white-knuckle events public.

The Death of Golf [Karl Taro Greenfield on Men’s Journal] (Aug 2015)

By any measure, participation in the game is way off, from a high of 30.6 million golfers in 2003 to 24.7 million in 2014, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF). The long-term trends are also troubling, with the number of golfers ages 18 to 34 showing a 30 percent decline over the last 20 years. Nearly every metric — TV ratings, rounds played, golf-equipment sales, golf courses constructed — shows a drop-off…During the boom, most of those 20-somethings who were out hacking every weekend were out there because of one man: Tiger Woods. Golf’s heyday coincided neatly with Tiger’s run of 14 major golf championships between 1997 and 2008. If you listen to golf insiders, he’s the individual most to blame for those thousands of Craigs­list ads for used clubs. When Tiger triple-bogeyed his marriage, dallied with porn stars, and seemingly misplaced his swing all at once, the game not only lost its best player; it also lost its leading salesman. The most common answer given by golf industry types when asked what would return the game to its former popularity is “Find another Tiger.” But you can’t blame one man’s wandering libido for the demise of an entire sport. The challenges golf faces are myriad, from millennials lacking the requisite attention span for a five-hour round, to an increasingly environmentally conscious public that’s reluctant to take up a resource-intensive game played on nonnative grass requiring an almond farm’s worth of water, to the recent economic crisis that curtailed discretionary spending…Combine the game’s cost with the fact that golf is perceived as stubbornly alienating to everyone but white males — Augusta National, home of the Masters and perhaps the most famous golf club in the world, didn’t accept black members until 1990 and women until 2012 — and it’s no wonder young people aren’t flocking to it.

The story of the invention that could revolutionize batteries—and maybe American manufacturing as well [Steve LeVine on Quartz] (6/22/15)

There may be a way to revolutionize batteries, he says, but right now it is not in the laboratory. Instead, it’s on the factory floor. Ingenious manufacturing, rather than an ingenious leap in battery chemistry, might usher in the new electric age. When it starts commercial sales in about two years, Chiang says, his company will slash the cost of an entry-level battery plant 10-fold, as well as cut around 30% off the price of the batteries themselves. That’s thanks to a new manufacturing process along with a powerful new cell that adds energy while stripping away cost. Together, he says, they will allow lithium-ion batteries to begin to compete with fossil fuels. But Chiang’s concept is also about something more than just cheaper, greener power. It’s a model for a new kind of innovation, one that focuses not on new scientific invention, but on new ways of manufacturing. For countries like the US that have lost industries to Asia, this opens the possibility of reinventing the techniques of manufacture. Those that take this path could own that intellectual property—and thus the next manufacturing future.

Last Week’s Hot Links, With Laremy: ‘Ted 2,’ Sex Clubs, A Man That’s An Ant, And The Twitter! [Laremy Legal on FilmDrunk] (6/29/15)

“With $32.9 million in 3,442 theaters Ted 2, however, didn’t really make a run at the spot, making less than even the most pessimistic pundits had placed it.” I know why this happened. It was because Ted 2 sucked on rails. It had these odd musical asides that were more “Family Guy” than the original Ted. The opening credits were brutal. The plot was both nonsensical and totally unhelpful to the comedy. Much as when the Jim Beam guys need inspiration, Mila Kunis was missed. And finally, they left soooo many potential jokes on the floor. It was as if this was supposed to be a more serious pivot into “acting” for Ted the bear. Really odd.

Uniqlo sex video: film shot in Beijing store goes viral and angers government [on The Guardian] (7/16/15)

A viral sex video that set the Chinese internet alight this week struck a severe blow to the country’s “core socialist values”, Beijing’s online watchdog has said. The one-minute film, which leaked on to social media on Tuesday night and has since been viewed by millions of people, shows a bespectacled man and a woman having sex in a Beijing branch of Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo. The X-rated footage spread like wildfire on platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, leaving internet censors scrambling to keep up. In a statement, Beijing’s internet watchdog claimed Chinese “internet users are highly concerned and strongly condemn the acts”. But the general reaction was one of delight not disgust. Commemorative t-shirts celebrating the Uniqlo encounter could be found on online shopping portals such as Taobao and Tmall…On Thursday morning dozens of young Chinese could be seen snapping selfies outside the Uniqlo outlet where the sex tape was shot.

Black Drivers Were 75 Percent More Likely to Be Stopped Than White Ones, AG Says   [Sarah Fenske on The Riverfront Times] (6/1/15)

Black drivers were significantly more likely to be stopped by police in Missouri in 2014 than white drivers, a new report from Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has found. In fact, the state’s disparity index between black and white drivers — which describes the difference between the rate at which members of each racial group are stopped, as measured against its share of the driving-age population — is the highest it’s been since Missouri began tracking that number in 2000, the AG says…Blacks make up just 10.9 percent of Missouri’s population, yet comprised 18 percent of all traffic stops, the report found. White drivers, who make up 82.76 percent of the state’s population, comprised only 78.3 percent of stops. That gave black drivers a disparity index value of 1.66, while white drivers’ index value was 0.95…Interestingly, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians and people of unknown race were also stopped at rates below their proportion of the driving population, the report found. However, once they were pulled over, Hispanic drivers joined their black counterparts in being more likely to be searched than whites. Compared to white drivers, black drivers were 1.73 percent more likely to be searched; Hispanic drivers were 1.9 percent more likely to be searched. That’s true even though, on average, black and Hispanic drivers were less likely to be found with contraband, according to the study. For white drivers, contraband was found in 26.9 percent of searches; for black drivers, that was true of just 21.4 percent of searches, and for Hispanics, just 19.5 percent of searches.

Foreigners should pay to use NHS say three quarters of GPs who fear they are becoming a gateway for migrants abusing the system [Sophie Borland on The Daily Mail] (2/27/15)

At present, GP appointments and treatment are free for all overseas patients although they are meant to pay for most hospital procedures. But family doctors say that the current system makes them a gateway for foreigners abusing free hospital treatment. This is because staff rarely bother to check patients’ nationalities and whether they should be paying as they assume that if they have a GP referral they are eligible for free NHS care. A survey of 515 GPs by Pulse magazine found that 77 per cent were in favour of ‘upfront’ charges for foreign patients.

Squabbling, Hesitation and Luck Had Roles in Manhunt for New York Prison Escapees [Benjamin Mueller on The New York Times] (6/29/15)

In the end, neither convict made it more than 40 miles from Clinton Correctional Facility, and in their last days the men — separated for the first time in years — showed signs of growing desperation as they left a trail of chocolate wrappers and opened bottles of grape gin and rum. Investigators capitalized, ending the inmates’ flight without any known injuries to the public or law enforcement officials. A week distinguished by DNA discoveries and well-organized sweeps was the final stage of a 23-day slog that was hampered, at times, by missed signals.

How Cincinnati Got Its Cops to Support Community Policing [Liz Farmer on Governing Magazine] (7/8/15)

After nearly a year of working on the agreement to reform the city’s police department, everyone was frustrated with the lack of progress. One afternoon, [former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom] Streicher found himself alone in a courtroom hallway with local civil rights lawyer Scott Greenwood, who had sued the police department more times than either could remember. “What do you really want out of this?” Streicher asked him. “Every time you sue me, what are you really trying to do?” “I live here – I’m invested in this,” said Greenwood, as Streicher tells it. “I want things to be better. I’ve been beating my head against a wall in a courtroom for 20 years. But I truly want to make things better.” Streicher paused. “Are you serious?” “Yeah,” Greenwood said. Up until that point, Streicher had thought that Greenwood was simply trying to make a name for himself by harassing the police department. The more they talked, the more they developed a mutual respect for one another. “I realized,” Streicher says today, “we weren’t that dramatically different. There was a lot about policing he didn’t understand, and there’s a lot I didn’t understand about his perspective.”

American Wages Might Explain Puerto Rico’s Economic Troubles [Governing Magazine] (7/2/15)

Puerto Rico’s long-simmering debt crisis owes much to an economy that has been shedding jobs for years. And blame for that, economists say, stems in part from how the island operates under the same wage rules as the more prosperous 50 states. The commonwealth is subject to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, even though local income and productivity are significantly lower than in Mississippi, the poorest American state. The minimum wage in Puerto Rico is equal to 77% of per capita income, compared with 28% in the U.S. overall. Roughly one-third of workers earned the minimum wage on the island in 2010, compared with just 16% for the U.S. mainland, according to a 2012 report by the New York Federal Reserve Bank. That report concluded the minimum wage contributed to a lack of jobs for lower-skilled workers, in part because businesses can relocate to lower-wage nearby countries.

Old before your time? People age at wildly different rates, study confirms [Ian Sample on The Guardian] (7/6/15)

A study of nearly one thousand 38-year-olds found that while most had biological ages close to the number of birthdays they had notched up, others were far younger or older. Researchers used 18 physiological markers, including blood pressure, organ function, and metabolism, to assess the biological age of each of the participants…The researchers drew on data gathered on 871 people enrolled in the Dunedin study, a major investigation that has tracked the health and broader lives of around 1000 New Zealanders born in 1972 or 1973 in the town of Dunedin, New Zealand. Of the original group, 30 had died by the age of 38 due to serious diseases such as cancer, or by accidents, suicides and drug overdoses…The scientists drew up a list of 18 biological markers that together reflect a person’s biological age. They included measures of kidney and liver function, cholesterol levels, cardiovascual fitness and the lengths of teleomeres, which are protective caps that sit on the ends of chromosomes. The set of markers were measured when the volunteers were aged 26, then 32, and finally at the age of 38. The researchers then looked to see how much the markers changed over time, to produce a “pace of ageing” figure. Across the group, the biological ages of the 38-year-olds varied from 28 to 61. If a 38-year-old had a biological age of 40, it implied a “pace of ageing” of 1.2 years per year over the 12 year study period. Details of the study are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…The scientists went on to see whether volunteers’ biological ages matched how they old they looked. They invited students to view photos of the study participants and guess their ages. The biologically older people were consistently rated as looking older than their 38 years.

Making the Cut [Marshall Allen and Olga Pierce on ProPublica] (7/13/15)

It’s conventional wisdom that there are “good” and “bad” hospitals — and that selecting a good one can protect patients from the kinds of medical errors that injure or kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. But a ProPublica analysis of Medicare data found that, when it comes to elective operations, it is much more important to pick the right surgeon…many hospitals don’t track the complication rates of individual surgeons and use that data to force improvements. And neither does the government. A small share of doctors, 11 percent, accounted for about 25 percent of the complications. Hundreds of surgeons across the country had rates double and triple the national average. Every day, surgeons with the highest complication rates in our analysis are performing operations in hospitals nationwide. Subpar performers work even at academic medical centers considered among the nation’s best.

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

A view from the tailpipe gives EVs a clear edge: no emissions, no pollution, no problem. Shift the view to that of a smokestack, though, and we get a much different picture. The EV that caused no environmental damage on the road during the day still needs to be charged at night. This requires a great deal of electricity generated by a power plant somewhere, and if that power plant runs on coal, it’s not hard to imagine it spewing more emissions from a smokestack than a comparable gas car coughed up from a tailpipe. So the truth of the matter hinges on perspective—and, it turns out, geography. That’s the sobering lesson from an incredibly sophisticated new working study by a group of economists. Using a fine-grained, county-level measure of U.S. vehicle emissions traced to tailpipes and electricity grids, the researchers mapped where gas cars and EVs cause more respective pollution. In some places electrics do so much relative harm that instead of being subsidized, as is currently the case, they should actually be taxed…For the electric Focus, environmental damage was far more regional. In the West, where the power grid tends to be clean, electric vehicles did little damage (again, about a cent a mile). But in the Midwest and Northeast, where the electricity grid tends to rely on coal power plants, the damage from emissions ranged back up toward five cents a mile. Texas and the South were in the middle of the pack…Within these broad trends there’s considerable nuance. Some places, like Los Angeles, are big EV winners. The city’s air shed traps pollutants from gas cars, leading to local smog; meanwhile, electricity is drawn from a clean grid in places like Nevada, so the environmental damage is both remote and minimal. On the flipside you have a typical county in South Dakota, where gas cars are relatively cleaner. There the damage done by pollutants on the sparse local population is minimal; electricity, drawn from coal-fired plants in denser places like Illinois, is dirty by comparison.

How Democrats Suppress The Vote [Eitan Hersh on FiveThirtyEight] (11/3/15) – RW

Voters of all political stripes prefer consolidated elections, and by wide margins. But that’s especially true for people who identify as Democrats, who prefer consolidated elections 73 percent to 27 percent. Consolidation is popular, and during the decade-long period between 2001 and 2011 that Anzia studied, state legislatures across the country considered over 200 bills aimed at consolidating elections. About half, 102 bills, were focused specifically on moving school board election dates so that they would coincide with other elections. Only 25 became law. The consolidation bills, which were generally sponsored by Republicans, typically failed because of Democratic opposition, according to Anzia. By her account, Democrats opposed the bills at the urging of Democratic-aligned interest groups, namely teachers unions and municipal employee organizations.

The Resurrection of America’s Slums [Alana Semuels on The Atlantic] (8/9/15)

The number of people living in high-poverty areas—defined as census tracts where 40 percent or more of families have income levels below the federal poverty threshold—nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013, to 13.8 million from 7.2 million, according to a new analysis of census data by Paul Jargowsky, a public-policy professor at Rutgers University-Camden and a fellow at The Century Foundation. That’s the highest number of Americans living in high-poverty neighborhoods ever recorded. The development is worrying, especially since the number of people living in high-poverty areas fell 25 percent, to 7.2 million from 9.6 million, between 1990 and 2000. Back then, concentrated poverty was declining in part because the economy was booming. The Earned Income Tax Credit boosted the take-home pay for many poor families. (Studies have shown the EITC also creates a feeling of social inclusion and citizenship among low-income earners.) The unemployment rate fell as low as 3.8 percent, and the first minimum wage increases in a decade made it easier for families to get by. Programs to disassemble housing projects in big cities such as Chicago and Detroit eradicated some of the most concentrated poverty in the country, Jargowsky told me.

The 10% Treasury That’s Older Than a Lot of Traders Matures Tomorrow [Alexandra Scaggs on Bloomberg News] (8/14/15)

The bond was issued on Aug. 15, 1985, and is one of just five Treasury bonds left with coupons of 9 percent or higher. All of them mature in the next three years. And as the ranks of high-coupon government bonds have gotten smaller, so has the number of traders and analysts who were on Wall Street desks when high yields and worries about rising prices were the norm.

Scott Walker’s Making Taxpayers Provide $400 Million for New Basketball Arena [Tim Jones and John McCormick on The Tribune News Service via Governing Magazine] (8/11/15)

Gov. Scott Walker’s fiscal conservatism will collide with the reality of sports-team subsidies when he commits Wisconsin taxpayers to pay $400 million for a new basketball arena. At Wednesday’s signing, the Republican presidential candidate’s message of being a tightfisted taxpayer champion will be weighed against public costs spread over 20 years. The ceremony also may draw attention to the $200,000 that the co-owners of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks donated to a group backing his campaign.

Michigan Lawmakers Pressured to Resign Amid Bizarre Sex Scandal [Kathleen Gray on The Detroit Free Press via Governing Magazine] (8/10/15)

The business office for the Michigan House of Representatives worked throughout the weekend to examine e-mail and personnel records of state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, a pair of Republican lawmakers caught up in an alleged cover-up of an extramarital affair. Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, ordered the investigation after news broke Friday morning that the pair allegedly concocted a plan to distribute an e-mail accusing Courser of paying for gay sex outside a Lansing nightclub — what Courser described in a conversation taped by an aide, who was later fired, as a “complete smear campaign” that would make reports of a straight extramarital affair with Gamrat seem mild by comparison…The e-mail, which was widely sent to Republicans in May, was an over-the-top indictment of Courser as a sexual deviant. The aide urged him to forget the scheme and resign. Neither Courser nor Gamrat, both of whom are married with kids — Courser has four and Gamrat has three — returned phone calls for comment on Sunday.

The Mystery of ISIS [Anonymous on New York Review of Books] (8/13/15)

The rise of Ahmad Fadhil—or as he was later known in the jihad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—and ISIS, the movement of which he was the founder, remains almost inexplicable. The year 2003, in which he began his operations in Iraq, seemed to many part of a mundane and unheroic age of Internet start-ups and a slowly expanding system of global trade. Despite the US-led invasion of Iraq that year, the borders of Syria and Iraq were stable. Secular Arab nationalism appeared to have triumphed over the older forces of tribe and religion. Different religious communities—Yezidis, Shabaks, Christians, Kaka’is, Shias, and Sunnis—continued to live alongside one another, as they had for a millennium or more. Iraqis and Syrians had better incomes, education, health systems, and infrastructure, and an apparently more positive future, than most citizens of the developing world. Who then could have imagined that a movement founded by a man from a video store in provincial Jordan would tear off a third of the territory of Syria and Iraq, shatter all these historical institutions, and—defeating the combined militaries of a dozen of the wealthiest countries on earth—create a mini empire?

Affirmative Consent: Are Students Really Asking? [Sandy Keenan on The New York Times] (7/28/15)

An estimated 1,400 institutions of higher education now use some type of affirmative consent definition in their sexual assault policies, according to the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, a for-profit consulting group. California was the first state to institute standards, last fall, followed by New York. Among states that have introduced affirmative consent bills are New Jersey, New Hampshire and Connecticut. New York’s law standardizes prevention and response policies and procedures relating to sexual assault. The consent definition within it, officials say, is not intended to micromanage students’ sex lives but to reorient them on how to approach sex and to put them on notice to take the issue seriously. So how are students incorporating the code into practice? Are they tucking pens and contracts into back jean pockets alongside breath mints and condoms? To take the pulse of consent culture, I spoke with several dozen students at the University at Albany. Only a few knew about the standards.

China’s crusade to remove crosses from churches ‘is for safety concerns’ [Tom Phillips on The Guardian] (7/29/15)

A Communist party campaign during which crosses have been stripped from the roofs of more than 1,200 Chinese churches is being conducted “for the sake of safety and beauty”, a government official has claimed. Human rights activists accuse authorities in Zhejiang province in eastern China of using the protracted campaign to slow Christianity’s growth in what is one of the country’s most churchgoing regions. By some estimates, China is nowhome to 100 million Christians, compared with the Communist party’s 88 million members. Since the government campaign began in late 2013, hundreds of places of worship have had bright red crosses removed. Some churches have been completely demolished, while civil servants have been banned from practising religion. Some observers suspect the campaign has the backing of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and could be a “pilot project” before a nationwide crackdown.

These Superhumans Are Real and Their DNA Could Be Worth Billions [Caroline Chen on Bloomberg News] (7/22/15)

Steven Pete can put his hand on a hot stove or step on a piece of glass and not feel a thing, all because of a quirk in his genes. Only a few dozen people in the world share Pete’s congenital insensitivity to pain. Drug companies see riches in his rare mutation. They also have their eye on people like Timothy Dreyer, 25, who has bones so dense he could walk away from accidents that would leave others with broken limbs. About 100 people have sclerosteosis, Dreyer’s condition. Both men’s apparent superpowers come from exceedingly uncommon deviations in their DNA. They are genetic outliers, coveted by drug companies Amgen, Genentech, and others in search of drugs for some of the industry’s biggest, most lucrative markets.

When Prosecutors Believe the Unbelievable [Dahlia Lithwick on Slate] (7/16/15)

Three years ago, one of the strangest criminal cases in recent memory began in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I live, when a young woman sent a series of text messages telling her boyfriend that a man had abducted her, followed by a series of texts, allegedly from her captor, taunting her boyfriend with threats of sexual violence. Her story was strange, and the case was fraught with complications from the get-go, but the accused ended up in prison long after the doubts outweighed the evidence. This story is bizarre, but it’s not all that unusual: Prosecutors can prosecute even the weakest, most clearly flawed cases relentlessly, and innocent people can end up in jail.

1-800-HIRE-A-CROWD [Dan Schneider on The Atlantic] (7/22/15)

These days, if a candidate or protest organizer is short on numbers, he or she can simply pick up the phone and call a company like Crowds on Demand, a Los Angeles-based company that provides rental crowds for campaign rallies and protests. The company was founded in late 2012 by Adam Swart, a UCLA grad who majored in political science. It is among a very small number of U.S. companies that offers rental crowd services in the U.S. (including Crowds for Rent and the Trump-hired Extra Mile Casting), and perhaps the only one that does so openly. While Crowds on Demand was initially geared toward corporate events and PR stunts, Swart says that soon after the company’s founding, would-be elected officials began reaching out for his services in order to give their campaigns a boost. Some have used his services to protest opposing candidates; others have used them to create the appearance of larger turnouts at their own events.

Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up. [Amy Maxmen on Wired]

Everyone at the Napa meeting had access to a gene-editing technique called Crispr-Cas9. The first term is an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” a description of the genetic basis of the method; Cas9 is the name of a protein that makes it work. Technical details aside, Crispr-Cas9 makes it easy, cheap, and fast to move genes around—any genes, in any living thing, from bacteria to people…Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals. Startups devoted to Crispr have launched. International pharmaceutical and agricultural companies have spun up Crispr R&D. Two of the most powerful universities in the US are engaged in a vicious war over the basic patent. Depending on what kind of person you are, Crispr makes you see a gleaming world of the future, a Nobel medallion, or dollar signs.

How Different Groups Think about Scientific Issues [Lee Rainie and Cary Funk on Pew Research Center] (2/12/15)

When asked to pick among three choices, 50% said that climate change is occurring mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, 23% said that climate change is mostly because of natural patterns in earth’s environment, and another 25% said there is no solid evidence the earth is getting warmer. That contrasts with views among scientists; fully 87% of AAAS scientists say the earth is warming due to human activity, 9% say the earth is warming due to natural changes in the earth’s environment and just 3% say there is no solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer.

Fish oil pills: A $1.2 billion industry built, so far, on empty promises [Peter Whoriskey on The Washington Post] (7/8/15)

For anyone wondering about whether to take a fish oil pill to improve your health, the Web site of the National Institutes of Health has some advice. Yes. And no. One page on the Web site endorses taking fish oil supplements, saying they are likely effective for heart disease, because they contain the “beneficial” fatty acids known as omega-3s. But another page suggests that, in fact, the fish oil pills seem useless: “Omega-3s in supplement form have not been shown to protect against heart disease.”…People in the United States spend about $1.2 billion annually for fish oil pills and related supplements even though the vast majority of research published recently in major journals provides no evidence of a health benefit. The “accrual of high-level evidence,” according to a review of studies published last year in an American Medical Association journal, shows “that the supplements lack efficacy across a range of health outcomes.” While the persistent popularity of fish oil may reflect the human weakness for anything touted as a life-extending elixir, it also reflects that, even among scientists, diet notions can persist even when stronger evidence emerges contradicting them. Scientists, sometimes, are reluctant to let go of ideas.

After Ferguson, St Louis hip-hop gets serious [Ben Westhoff on The Guardian] (9/9/15)

Last decade St Louis was known almost exclusively for its party raps. In the wake of Nelly, who urged us to take off all our clothes and became one of the best-selling rappers in history, came Chingy, who liked the way we did that right thurr, and J-Kwon, who got tipsy thanks to his fake ID. In 2009, Huey taught us to Pop, Lock & Drop It. Those days are over. The major labels aren’t really calling any more, and the mood of the city has changed. In the year since Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, St Louis hip-hop is now mostly focused on politics and repression, whether explicitly or implicitly.

Revealed: how Indigenous Australian storytelling accurately records sea level rises 7,000 years ago [Joshua Robertson on The Guardian] (9/16/15)

Indigenous stories of dramatic sea level rises across Australia date back more than 7,000 years in a continuous oral tradition without parallel anywhere in the world, according to new research. Sunshine Coast University marine geographer Patrick Nunn and University of New England linguist Nicholas Reid believe that 21 Indigenous stories from across the continent faithfully record events between 18,000 and 7000 years ago, when the sea rose 120m. Reid said a key feature of Indigenous storytelling culture – a distinctive “cross-generational cross-checking” process – might explain the remarkable consistency in accounts passed down by preliterate people which researchers previously believed could not persist for more than 800 years.

Hollywood needs to change its game in the age of Rotten Tomatoes [Ben Child on The Guardian] (9/8/15)

Last week, the Hollywood Reporter described the box office “tracking” system, which studios use to predict how well movies will fare on a given weekend, as “broken”. The trade bible’s verdict came after Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Trainwreck and Straight Outta Compton radically outperformed expectations in the US this summer. Meanwhile, Fantastic Four, The Man from UNCLE, We Are Your Friends and Terminator: Genysis all found themselves falling way below their predicted take. The successful films all picked up high scores on the critical aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and benefitted from the ensuing positive word of mouth on social media, while the underperforming efforts all struggled to convince critics and Twitter and Facebook users of their charm. And no amount of marketing cash could make the blindest bit of difference to the outcome. In the case of Fantastic Four, this sea change must have come as a huge shock to 20th Century Fox, which previously posted strong box-office results for poorly reviewed superhero films such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: The Last Stand and two previous Fantastic Four movies. Suddenly, they discovered that the old tricks no longer do the business.

‘Archaeology on steroids’: huge ritual arena discovered near Stonehenge [Ian Sample on The Guardian] (9/6/15)

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a massive stone monument buried under a thick, grassy bank only two miles from Stonehenge. The hidden arrangement of up to 90 huge standing stones formed part of a C-shaped Neolithic arena that bordered a dry valley and faced directly towards the river Avon.

Fish Farming Becomes Bigger Business Than the Open Sea [Isis Almeida on Bloomberg News] (8/17/15)

For the first time, the world is eating more fish from farms than from the open sea, spurring billions of dollars of takeovers as one of the largest food companies seeks to capitalize on rising demand.

Two of a Kind?: What Facebook Profile Similarity Says About Couples [Fred Cavel on The Science of Relationships] (9/3/15)

It turns out that similarity between two partners’ profiles is a useful piece of information; profile overlap tells us something about couple’s relationships. Partners who felt like they overlapped or were one and the same with their partners tended to also have Facebook profiles with more overlap with their partner’s Facebook profiles. Additionally, partners who said they were more committed and those who had made more investments in their relationships tended to have profiles that included more mutual friends, mutual photos, and mutual likes (this wasn’t true of partners who felt more satisfied). Interestingly, when people reported that alternatives to their relationships were of low value, they tended to have more Facebook profile overlap with their partners, but did not necessarily report feeling like they overlapped with their partners. The authors argue that people’s views of alternatives might be more closely related to Facebook profile similarity because Facebook profiles include newsfeeds, which provide individual users with up-to-the-minute information about and from potential alternatives. For partners with highly overlapping profiles, more of these potential alternatives are mutual friends, which might reduce the appeal of these other people (though this assertion has yet to be tested).

When and Why We iSnoop on Others [Dr. Tim Loving on The Science of Relationships] (9/1/15)

As with other forms of information seeking (such as, oh I don’t know, simply speaking to someone directly), everything stems from uncertainty discrepancy, or perceiving that you don’t know enough about a specific partner’s life. Those that felt they need to know more experienced more anxiety. And anxiety in and of itself motivates people to seek information about important people in their lives. But here’s the rub: anxiety also made people less confident that snooping would reveal good information and undermined their confidence that they would be able to cope effectively with what they uncover. Put another way, anxiety motivates us to dig up information on others but undermines how we think we’ll feel about that information.

The lost genius of Mozart’s sister [Sylvia Milo on The Guardian] (9/8/15)

Maria Anna (called Marianne and nicknamed Nannerl) was – like her younger brother – a child prodigy. The children toured most of Europe (including an 18-month stay in London in 1764-5) performing together as “wunderkinder”. There are contemporaneous reviews praising Nannerl, and she was even billed first. Until she turned 18. A little girl could perform and tour, but a woman doing so risked her reputation. And so she was left behind in Salzburg, and her father only took Wolfgang on their next journeys around the courts of Europe. Nannerl never toured again. But the woman I found did not give up. She wrote music and sent at least one composition to Wolfgang and Papa – Wolfgang praised it as “beautiful” and encouraged her to write more. Her father didn’t, as far as we know, say anything about it. Did she stop? None of her music has survived. Perhaps she never showed it to anybody again, perhaps she destroyed it, maybe we will find it one day, maybe we already did but it’s wrongly attributed to her brother’s hand.

All Women Lie [Dawn Maslar on The Science of Relationships] (8/5/15)

Researchers have found discrepancies in what a woman says she wants in a dating partner and the man she actually picks to date. For example, researchers at Rice University wanted to know if a man flaunting a flashy red Porsche would get more dates than a man in a more economical car like the Honda Civic.1 They conducted a study asking a woman to pick whom she would most likely go out on a date with, the Porsche guy or the Civic guy. The researchers found that most women picked the Porsche guy. But there is a catch. A woman was most likely to select the Porsche guy for a date, but the Civic guy was more desirable to marry. In another study from University of British Columbia, participants were asked to rate pictures based solely on gut sexual attraction and not which person would make the best boyfriend or girlfriend. The researchers asked over 1,000 women to rate the pictures’ sexual attractiveness and found that women were least attracted to smiling, happy men. This is contrary to what women say they want in a relationship. For example, in an online survey of more than 1,000 American women between the ages of 21 to 54, the women were asked to rate their top personality traits for men. They stated that the most desirable trait was a sense of humor. Yet when selecting men from the pictures these women were more attracted to men who looked proud and powerful or moody and ashamed – characteristics often displayed by the iconic “bad boy” types.

The Renowned German Artist Who May Not Exist [Leonid Bershidsky on Bloomberg View] (9/4/15)

An elaborate scam — or call it a postmodern art project — is coming to an end in Germany. Kunsthaus Dresden, the city’s contemporary art gallery, has removed works by an artist named Karl Waldmann after the police announced it was investigating whether there ever was anyone with that name. Waldmann,  according to his biography on the website of the virtual “Waldmann Museum,” was a German-born Dadaist who never exhibited any of his work and “disappeared” in 1958. A French journalist supposedly acquired all of his known oeuvre — more than 1,000 works — in a flea market in Berlin in 1989. The “rediscovered” collages in a style reminiscent of the Russian avant-garde artist El Lissitzky or the German Karl Hermann Trinkaus, have since wound up at auctions, in private collections and in group exhibitions in various European countries. “Boundary Objects” — the show at Kunsthaus Dresden — is supported by government grants, and has traveled to South Africa and Benin. Late last month, the journalist Thomas Steinfeld wrote in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Waldmann probably was an invention. No references to the artist can be found during his alleged lifetime, and none of the curators who have selected Waldmann’s works for their exhibitions have had any idea of the collages’ true provenance. Chemical analysis of the paper used in the collages has found chemicals that could only have been used since the 1940s, although the works’ style is firmly fixed in the first 30 years of the 20th century. The only source of information about Waldmann is the Belgian art dealer Pascal Polar, who has been selling works signed KW for 10,000 euros ($11,100) to 20,000 euros. He insists Waldmann existed and expresses bewilderment at the interest German police have shown in the matter.

Debunking 6 Myths About Men, Women, and Their Relationships [Dr. Gwendolyn Seidman on The Science of Relationships] (7/20/15)

(1) A much-used measure of romanticism, the Romantic Beliefs Scale, asks people to rate the extent to which they agree with statements like, “There will only be one real love for me,” and, “If I love someone, I know I can make the relationship work, despite any obstacles.” But it turns out that men typically outscore women on this measure. Men are also more likely than women to believe in the romantic notion of “love at first sight.”…Many studies have shown that when men and women are asked which characteristics they prefer in a mate, men rate physical appearance as more important than women do. However, closer examination of this data reveals that both men and women think looks are important, with men rating it somewhat higher than women. In one seminal study, men and women ranked a series of characteristics for potential mates. Men ranked looks, on average, as the fourth-most-important trait; women ranked it about sixth. So both genders ranked it highly, but not at the top…

(2) In a more recent study, researchers examined the preferences of college students participating in a speed-dating event. Prior to their speed-dates, the students rated how important different characteristics would be in making their selections, and the expected gender differences emerged, with women rating physical attractiveness as less important than men. But when the researchers examined who participants actually chose during the event, the gender difference disappeared: Both men and women preferred physically attractive partners, with no gender difference in how much looks influenced their choices…

(3) While, overall, men are more interested in—and more willing to accept offers for—casual sexual encounters, women’s interest in casual sex has been underestimated…

(4) Focusing only on gender differences when dealing with our partners tends to oversimplify things and exaggerate the truth, leading to less, not more, understanding of one another…

(5) Most research suggests that men and women do not differ significantly in their responses to relationship conflict. But there is a kernel of truth to this myth: Some couples engage in a destructive “demand/withdraw” pattern of conflict, in which one person, the demander, presses an issue and insists on discussing it, while the other withdraws and avoids the debate. The more a demander pushes an issue, the more a withdrawer retreats, only causing the demander to become more intent on discussing the issue, and creating a vicious cycle that leaves both partners frustrated. And when this pattern occurs, it is much more likely that a woman is the demander…

(6) [I]t is true that the injuries suffered by female domestic violence victims tend to be more serious than those suffered by male victims, and that the abuses inflicted by men are likely to be more frequent and severe. Nonetheless, males are also frequently the victims of domestic violence. In a recent survey of British adults, it was found that about 40% of domestic violence victims were male. In one national survey in the United States, it was found that 12.1% women and 11.3% of men reported that they had committed a violent act against their spouse in the past year. Other studies have found that women are just as likely as men to initiate violent encounters with spouses. It’s the stereotype that men can’t be victims of domestic violence, and fears of being stigmatized, that often discourage men from reporting abuse or seeking help. But men are quite likely to be victims of physical abuse, even if it is less severe.

Brides’ and Fiancés’ Weight Leading Up to the Wedding [Dr. Gary Lewandowski on The Science of Relationships] (6/11/15)

Partners’ weights and heights were associated such that lighter brides had lighter fiancés; Heavier brides had heavier fiancés. In the 6 months leading up to the wedding, equal numbers of brides lost, gained, and stayed the same weight, while most men stayed the same weight. Women who were more similar in weight to their fiancés were more likely to lose weight. Overall, women seem to feel a need to be thinner than their male partners, especially leading up to the wedding.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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