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Best of the Best:

The Hackers of Damascus [Stephen Faris on Bloomberg Businessweek] (11/15/12)

Much has been written about the rebellion in Syria: the protests, the massacres, the car bombs, the house-to-house fighting. Tens of thousands have been killed since the war began in early 2011. But the struggle for the future of the country has also unfolded in another arena—on a battleground of Facebook (FB) pages and YouTube accounts, of hacks and counterhacks. Just as rival armies vie for air superiority, the two sides of the Syrian civil war have spent much of the last year and a half locked in a struggle to dominate the Internet. Pro-government hackers have penetrated opposition websites and broken into the computers of Reuters (TRI) and Al Jazeera to spread disinformation. On the other side, the hacktivist group Anonymous has infiltrated at least 12 Syrian government websites, including that of the Ministry of Defense, and released millions of stolen e-mails. The Syrian conflict illustrates the extent to which the very tools that rebels in the Middle East have employed to organize and sustain their movements are now being used against them. It provides a glimpse of the future of warfare, in which computer viruses and hacking techniques can be as critical to weakening the enemy as bombs and bullets. Over the past three months, I made contact with and interviewed by phone and e-mail participants on both sides of the Syrian cyberwar. Their stories shed light on a largely hidden aspect of a conflict with no end in sight—and show how the Internet has become a weapon of war.

Why Things Fail: From Tires to Helicopter Blades, Everything Breaks Eventually [Robert Capps on Wired] (10/19/12)

This meticulous work has produced revelations. Before, even information like the size of the market—how much gets paid out each year in warranty claims—was a mystery. Nobody, not analysts, not the government, not the companies themselves, knew what it was. Now Arnum can tell you. In 2011, for example, basic warranties cost US manufacturers $24.7 billion. Because of the slow economy, this is actually down, Arnum says; in 2007 it was around $28 billion. Extended warranties—warranties that customers purchase from a manufacturer or a retailer like Best Buy—account for an estimated $30.2 billion in additional claims payments. Before Arnum, this $60 billion-a-year industry was virtually invisible. Then there are the warranty “events.” When a company gets something seriously wrong, it shows up in an Arnum spreadsheet. Asked for a dramatic example, he thinks for a second, then says, “the Xbox 360.”

The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly [Justin Heckert on The New York Times] (11/15/12)

Her life story offers an amazing snapshot of how complicated a life can get without the guidance of pain. Pain is a gift, and she doesn’t have it.

Luck and Skill Untangled: The Science of Success [Samuel Arbesman on Wired] (11/16/12)

Of course, we know one of the terms of our equation — the observed outcome — and we can estimate luck.  Estimating luck for a sports team is pretty simple. You assume that each game the team plays is settled by a coin toss. The distribution of win-loss records of the teams in the league follows a binomial distribution. So with these two terms pinned down, we can estimate skill and the relative contribution of skill. To be more technical, we look at the variance of these terms, but the intuition is that you subtract luck from what happened and are left with skill. This, in turn, lets you assess the relative contribution of the two. Some aspects of the ranking make sense, and others are not as obvious. For instance, if a game is played one on one, such as tennis, and the match is sufficiently long, you can be pretty sure that the better player will win. As you add players, the role of luck generally rises because the number of interactions rises sharply. There are three aspects I will emphasize. The first is related to the number of players. But it’s not just the number of players, it’s who gets to control the game…The second aspect is sample size. As you learn early on in statistics class, small samples have larger variances than larger samples of the same system…Finally, there’s the aspect of how the game is scored. Go back to baseball. A team can get lots of players on base through hits and walks, but have no players cross the plate, based on when the outs occur. In theory, one team could have 27 hits and score zero runs and another team can have one hit and win the game 1-0. It’s of course very, very unlikely but it gives you a feel for the influence of the scoring method. Basketball is the game that has the most skill.

China Mafia-Style Hack Attack Drives California Firm to Brink [Michael A. Riley on Bloomberg News] (11/28/14)

For three years, a group of hackers from China waged a relentless campaign of cyber harassment against Solid Oak Software Inc., Milburn’s family-owned, eight-person firm in Santa Barbara, California. The attack began less than two weeks after Milburn publicly accused China of appropriating his company’s parental filtering software, CYBERsitter, for a national Internet censoring project. And it ended shortly after he settled a $2.2 billion lawsuit against the Chinese government and a string of computer companies last April. In between, the hackers assailed Solid Oak’s computer systems, shutting down web and e-mail servers, spying on an employee with her webcam, and gaining access to sensitive files in a battle that caused company revenues to tumble and brought it within a hair’s breadth of collapse.

The Folly of Scientism [Austin L. Hughes on The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society] (Fall 2012)

The temptation to overreach, however, seems increasingly indulged today in discussions about science. Both in the work of professional philosophers and in popular writings by natural scientists, it is frequently claimed that natural science does or soon will constitute the entire domain of truth. And this attitude is becoming more widespread among scientists themselves. All too many of my contemporaries in science have accepted without question the hype that suggests that an advanced degree in some area of natural science confers the ability to pontificate wisely on any and all subjects. Of course, from the very beginning of the modern scientific enterprise, there have been scientists and philosophers who have been so impressed with the ability of the natural sciences to advance knowledge that they have asserted that these sciences are the only valid way of seeking knowledge in any field. A forthright expression of this viewpoint has been made by the chemist Peter Atkins, who in his 1995 essay “Science as Truth” asserts the “universal competence” of science. This position has been called scientism — a term that was originally intended to be pejorative but has been claimed as a badge of honor by some of its most vocal proponents. In their 2007 book Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, for example, philosophers James Ladyman, Don Ross, and David Spurrett go so far as to entitle a chapter “In Defense of Scientism.”

Alan Turing in three words [Michael Saler on The Times Literary Supplement] (12/28/12)

Turing’s rehabilitation from over a quarter-century’s embarrassed silence was largely the result of Andrew Hodges’s superb biography, Alan Turing: The enigma (1983; reissued with a new introduction in 2012). Hodges examined available primary sources and interviewed surviving witnesses to elucidate Turing’s multiple dimensions. A mathematician, Hodges ably explained Turing’s intellectual accomplishments with insight, and situated them within their wider historical contexts. He also empathetically explored the centrality of Turing’s sexual identity to his thought and life in a persuasive rather than reductive way. Thus he made a convincing case that Turing’s teenage crush on a fellow schoolboy, Christopher Morcom, was an important catalyst for his lifelong preoccupation with the relationship between brain and mind. Morcom’s unexpected death at the age of eighteen was a shattering blow to Turing, who began to reflect on whether his friend’s consciousness might survive after death or whether it was simply a result of complex material processes and expired when life did. Hodges also linked the famous “Turing Test”, in which a computer attempts to pass as an intelligent human being, to Turing’s own dilemma as a gay man in a homophobic world. (Turing called his test the “imitation game”, and Hodges observed, “like any homosexual man, he was living an imitation game, not in the sense of conscious play acting, but by being accepted as a person that he was not”.)

Pardis Sabeti, the Rollerblading Rock Star Scientist of Harvard [Seth Mnookin on The Smithsonian Magazine] (December 2012)

Sabeti was convinced that there was a way to pinpoint when more recent changes in the human genome had occurred and that this knowledge could lead to breakthroughs in fighting disease. Specifically, she wanted to use the makeup of neighborhoods of genes (called haplotypes) to determine if a specific gene variation (called an allele) in a given neighborhood had recently come to prominence in a population because it conferred an evolutionary advantage. This should be possible, she thought, by using the never-ending process of genetic recombination—the breaking and rejoining of DNA strands—as a kind of clock to measure how long ago a given mutation had swept through a population. If a widespread mutation had appeared recently—for instance, the mutation that enabled adult human beings to digest the lactose in cow’s milk, a nutritional advantage for many people in Europe after cows became common there—fewer recombination events would have occurred since it was introduced. As a result, the mutated version of that allele should be on a stretch of DNA that was more or less identical for everyone in a population. If the mutation had appeared a longer time ago, recombination would dictate that the area around the mutated allele would have gone through more random recombination events and it would be on a stretch of DNA that was more varied across the population. It was a radical approach: Instead of using existing tools to analyze new data, she was trying to develop new tools to use on available data…early one morning, she plugged a large data set related to the DC40L gene, which she’d already linked to malaria resistance, into an algorithm she’d developed and watched results showing it was associated with a common haplotype—indicating it had recently been selected for—come into focus on her computer screen…That October, she was the lead author on a paper published in Nature that laid out her discovery’s “profound implications for the study of human history and for medicine.” For the first time, researchers could look for evidence of positive selection by testing common haplotypes even if they didn’t have “prior knowledge of a specific variant or selective advantage.” By applying this approach to pathogens, there was the possibility of identifying how diseases had evolved to outwit the human immune response or develop drug resistance—knowledge that would open up new avenues to combating disease.

5 Statistics Problems That Will Change The Way You See The World [Walter Hickey on The Atlantic] (11/13/12)

Abraham is tasked with reviewing damaged planes coming back from sorties over Germany in the Second World War. He has to review the damage of the planes to see which areas must be protected even more. Abraham finds that the fuselage and fuel system of returned planes are much more likely to be damaged by bullets or flak than the engines. What should he recommend to his superiors? PROTECT THE PARTS THAT DON’T HAVE DAMAGE: Abraham Wald, a member of the Statistical Research Group at the time, saw this problem and made an unconventional suggestion that saved countless lives. Don’t arm the places that sustained the most damage on planes that came back. By virtue of the fact that these planes came back, these parts of the planes can sustain damage. If an essential part of the plane comes back consistently undamaged, like the engines in the previous example, that’s probably because all the planes with shot-up engines don’t make it back.  Wald’s memos on this situation — in addition to being a remarkable historical statistical document — shed additional light of the statistics developed during the Second World War that would go on to found the field of Operations Research.

What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web? [Rob Rosenbaum on The Smithsonian Magazine]

In his often provocative and astute dissenting book You Are Not a Gadget, he recalls one of the participants in those early mind-melds describing it as like being “in the most interesting room in the world.” Together, these digital futurists helped develop the intellectual concepts that would shape what is now known as Web 2.0—“information wants to be free,” “the wisdom of the crowd” and the like. And then, shortly after the turn of the century, just when the rest of the world was turning on to Web 2.0, Lanier turned against it. With a broadside in Wired called “One-Half of a Manifesto,” he attacked the idea that “the wisdom of the crowd” would result in ever-upward enlightenment. It was just as likely, he argued, that the crowd would devolve into an online lynch mob.

The Boy Who Became a World War II Veteran at 13 Years Old [Gilbert King on Smithsonian Magazine] (12/19/12)

Aboard was a gunner from Texas who would soon become the nation’s youngest decorated war hero. Calvin Graham, the fresh-faced seaman who had set off for battle from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the summer of 1942, was only 12 years old…Calvin Graham told his mother he was going to visit relatives. Instead, he dropped out of the seventh grade and shipped off to San Diego for basic training. There, he said, the drill instructors were aware of the underage recruits and often made them run extra miles and lug heavier packs.

Which professions have the most psychopaths? The fewest? [Barking Up the Wrong Tree]

“Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial character, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.” So which professions (other than axe murderer) have the most psychopaths? What about the least? Via The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success:

East St. Louis Cops Outgunned as Cuts Let Killers Thrive [Tim Jones on Bloomberg News] (1/3/13)

Parks, the mayor, said the city has had “an image problem” since the 19th century, when the city’s first elected leader, John Bowman, was murdered in his front yard.

Restless Genes [David Dobbs on National Geographic] (January 2013)

In the winter of 1769, the British explorer Captain James Cook, early into his first voyage across the Pacific, received from a Polynesian priest named Tupaia an astonishing gift—a map, the first that any European had ever encountered showing all the major islands of the South Pacific. Some accounts say Tupaia sketched the map on paper; others that he described it in words. What’s certain is that this map instantly gave Cook a far more complete picture of the South Pacific than any other European possessed. It showed every major island group in an area some 3,000 miles across, from the Marquesas west to Fiji. It matched what Cook had already seen, and showed much he hadn’t. Cook had granted Tupaia a berth on the Endeavour in Tahiti. Soon after that, the Polynesian wowed the crew by navigating to an island unknown to Cook, some 300 miles south, without ever consulting compass, chart, clock, or sextant. In the weeks that followed, as he helped guide the Endeavour from one archipelago to another, Tupaia amazed the sailors by pointing on request, at any time, day or night, cloudy or clear, precisely toward Tahiti. Cook, uniquely among European explorers, understood what Tupaia’s feats meant. The islanders scattered across the South Pacific were one people, who long ago, probably before Britain was Britain, had explored, settled, and mapped this vast ocean without any of the navigational tools that Cook found essential—and had carried the map solely in their heads ever since. Two centuries later a global network of geneticists analyzing DNA bread-crumb trails of modern human migration would prove Cook right: Tupaia’s ancestors had colonized the Pacific 2,300 years before. Their improbable migration across the Pacific continued a long eastward march that had begun in Africa 70,000 to 50,000 years earlier. Cook’s journey, meanwhile, continued a westward movement started by his own ancestors, who had left Africa around the same time Tupaia’s ancestors had. In meeting each other, Cook and Tupaia closed the circle, completing a journey their forebears had begun together, so many millennia before.

WHO MURDERED BENAZIR BHUTTO? [Eric Margolis] (12/28/12)

By the time her season’s greeting card and a handwritten note arrived in my office, my old friend Benazir Bhutto was already dead. The card mailed in Pakistan days before her murder,  remains on my desk to this today, a touching last link from this  remarkable lady.  So, too, the names of the men who may have murdered her. Five years ago last Thursday,  Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister of Pakistan, was murdered in Rawalpindi during a campaign rally.   This charismatic lady was adored, even venerated by her supporters, who called her the savior of Pakistan. She was equally hated by her foes who accused her and husband, Asif Ali Zardari, of robbing Pakistan  and acting as agents of the United States. Shockingly, five years after her death, we still don’t know who was behind it even though her family political fief, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has held power ever since.   We are not even sure what killed her: a suicide bomber next to the vehicle from which she was waving to crowds,  a sniper, or a fractured skull caused by hitting her head on a roof latch as a result of the explosion. UN investigators reported she had been denied proper security by the regime of then president, Pervez Musharraf whose grip on power was faltering. Washington’s plan was to replace him with US ally Benazir.

Your Brain in Love [Mark Fischetti on Scientific American] (1/18/11)

Men and women can now thank a dozen brain regions for their romantic fervor. Researchers have revealed the fonts of desire by comparing functional MRI studies of people who indicated they were experiencing passionate love, maternal love or unconditional love. Together, the regions release neuro­transmitters and other chemicals in the brain and blood that prompt greater euphoric sensations such as attraction and pleasure. Conversely, psychiatrists might someday help individuals who become dan­gerously depressed after a heartbreak by adjusting those chemicals. Passion also heightens several cognitive functions, as the brain regions and chemicals surge. “It’s all about how that network interacts,” says Stephanie Ortigue, an assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University, who led the study. The cognitive functions, in turn, “are triggers that fully activate the love network.”

The Placebo Phenomenon [Cara Feinberg on Harvard Magazine] (Jan-Feb 2013)

Two weeks into Ted Kaptchuk’s first randomized clinical drug trial, nearly a third of his 270 subjects complained of awful side effects. All the patients had joined the study hoping to alleviate severe arm pain: carpal tunnel, tendinitis, chronic pain in the elbow, shoulder, wrist. In one part of the study, half the subjects received pain-reducing pills; the others were offered acupuncture treatments. And in both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn’t get out of bed. The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness; some patients’ pain ballooned to nightmarish levels. “The side effects were simply amazing,” Kaptchuk explains; curiously, they were exactly what patients had been warned their treatment might produce. But even more astounding, most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers. But Kaptchuk’s study didn’t prove it, either. The pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the “acupuncture” needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn’t aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes…But researchers have found that placebo treatments—interventions with no active drug ingredients—can stimulate real physiological responses, from changes in heart rate and blood pressure to chemical activity in the brain, in cases involving pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even some symptoms of Parkinson’s. The challenge now, says Kaptchuk, is to uncover the mechanisms behind these physiological responses—what is happening in our bodies, in our brains, in the method of placebo delivery (pill or needle, for example), even in the room where placebo treatments are administered (are the physical surroundings calming? is the doctor caring or curt?). The placebo effect is actually many effects woven together—some stronger than others—and that’s what Kaptchuk hopes his “pill versus needle” study shows. The experiment, among the first to tease apart the components of placebo response, shows that the methods of placebo administration are as important as the administration itself, he explains. It’s valuable insight for any caregiver: patients’ perceptions matter, and the ways physicians frame perceptions can have significant effects on their patients’ health.

The Real Cuban Missile Crisis [Benjamin Schwarz on The Atlantic] (1/2/13)

Although the missiles’ military significance was negligible, the Kennedy administration advanced on a perilous course to force their removal. The president issued an ultimatum to a nuclear power—an astonishingly provocative move, which immediately created a crisis that could have led to catastrophe. He ordered a blockade on Cuba, an act of war that we now know brought the superpowers within a hair’s breadth of nuclear confrontation. The beleaguered Cubans willingly accepted their ally’s weapons, so the Soviet’s deployment of the missiles was fully in accord with international law. But the blockade, even if the administration euphemistically called it a “quarantine,” was, the ExComm members acknowledged, illegal. As the State Department’s legal adviser recalled, “Our legal problem was that their action wasn’t illegal.” Kennedy and his lieutenants intently contemplated an invasion of Cuba and an aerial assault on the Soviet missiles there—acts extremely likely to have provoked a nuclear war. In light of the extreme measures they executed or earnestly entertained to resolve a crisis they had largely created, the American reaction to the missiles requires, in retrospect, as much explanation as the Soviet decision to deploy them—or more. On that very first day of the ExComm meetings, McNamara provided a wider perspective on the missiles’ significance: “I’ll be quite frank. I don’t think there is a military problem here … This is a domestic, political problem.” In a 1987 interview, McNamara explained: “You have to remember that, right from the beginning, it was President Kennedy who said that it was politically unacceptable for us to leave those missile sites alone. He didn’t say militarily, he said politically.” What largely made the missiles politically unacceptable was Kennedy’s conspicuous and fervent hostility toward the Castro regime—a stance, Kennedy admitted at an ExComm meeting, that America’s European allies thought was “a fixation” and “slightly demented.” In his presidential bid, Kennedy had red-baited the Eisenhower-Nixon administration, charging that its policies had “helped make Communism’s first Caribbean base.” Given that he had defined a tough stance toward Cuba as an important election issue, and given the humiliation he had suffered with the Bay of Pigs debacle, the missiles posed a great political hazard to Kennedy…The risks of such a cave-in, Kennedy and his advisers held, were distinct but related. The first was that America’s foes would see Washington as pusillanimous; the known presence of the missiles, Kennedy said, “makes them look like they’re coequal with us and that”—here Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon interrupted: “We’re scared of the Cubans.” The second risk was that America’s friends would suddenly doubt that a country given to appeasement could be relied on to fulfill its obligations. In fact, America’s allies, as Bundy acknowledged, were aghast that the U.S. was threatening nuclear war over a strategically insignificant condition—the presence of intermediate-range missiles in a neighboring country—that those allies (and, for that matter, the Soviets) had been living with for years. In the tense days of October 1962, being allied with the United States potentially amounted to, as Charles de Gaulle had warned, “annihilation without representation.” It seems never to have occurred to Kennedy and the ExComm that whatever Washington gained by demonstrating the steadfastness of its commitments, it lost in an erosion of confidence in its judgment. This approach to foreign policy was guided—and remains guided—by an elaborate theorizing rooted in a school-playground view of world politics rather than the cool appraisal of strategic realities. It put—and still puts—America in the curious position of having to go to war to uphold the very credibility that is supposed to obviate war in the first place.

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Best of the Best:

The World’s Most Famous Performance Artist Needs to Make Real Money [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg News] (2/27/15)

Despite her fame, an Abramovic original isn’t expensive—at least, not compared with contemporaries such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Gerhard Richter. While a single Koons sculpture fetches as much as $58.4 million at auction, Abramovic’s biggest sale to date was one of her material works, a 1996 sculpture called Chair for Non-Human Use, which sold for $362,500 in 2011, according to Artnet, which tracks the art market. The chair has a quartz crystal backrest and iron legs that are 23 feet long. As for The Artist Is Present, Abramovic says she prepared for a year, sat for a total of 736 hours, and needed three years to recover from the physical and mental toll. Her fee, she says, totaled $100,000.

Scientists know there are more giant craters in Siberia, but are nervous to even study them [Sydney Morning Herald] (2/27/15)

In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet’s most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called “the ends of the Earth” where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 30 metres in diameter. The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Climate change had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” one German scientist said at the time. Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters, the Siberian Times reported. Dozens more Siberian craters are likely still out there, said Moscow scientist Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, calling for an “urgent” investigation.

Heroin Overdose Deaths in U.S. Have Tripled Since 2010 [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (3/3/15)

The biggest spikes in heroin deaths have taken place in the Northeast and Midwest, the CDC reports. The demographics of heroin abuse and overdose are shifting. While heroin deaths are increasing among all races, the highest overdose rate in 2000 was among middle-aged blacks. By 2013, whites aged 18 to 44 had the greatest rate of overdoses. Men are nearly four times as likely to die from heroin overdoses than women are.  Heroin is also a big business: The RAND Corp. in 2010 estimated that America’s heroin market was worth $27 billion. That’s more than what is spent in the U.S. at hardware stores ($22 billion) or specialty food retailers ($21 billion), according to Census Bureau data.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist in Teen Pregnancy Rates [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline] (3/3/15)

But when you look at actual rates, they demonstrate a stark reality: Girls of color are much more likely to become pregnant. Among non-Hispanic white teens, the birth rate in 2013 was 19 births per 1,000, while among black teens, it was 39 births per 1,000. Latina teens have the highest birth rate, at 42 births per 1,000 teens. The birth rate for Native American teens was 31 births per 1,000, while among Asian/Pacific Islander teens, the birth rate was 9 births per 1,000. Poverty plays a big role in high teen birth rates, as does geography. Rural teens have higher rates of pregnancy than do urban and suburban teens. Southern states, which tend to be poorer and have the highest rates of HIV infections, also report the highest number of teen births. Education and access to contraceptives play a larger role in teen pregnancy rates than do cultural or religious differences, teen advocates suggest.

The Most Unique Job in Each State, in One Map [Jake Grovum on Stateline] (3/2/15)

The state of Hawaii has almost 13 times as many professional dancers than would be expected based on the national average. In New York, there are more than six times as many fashion designers. Florida has five times more professional athletes. Indiana, home to the Purdue University Boilermakers, has more than six times as many actual, working boilermakers…The numbers for North Dakota and Texas, for example, show the states’ heavy reliance on the energy industry: North Dakota has almost 36 times more extraction workers than would be expected based on national averages; Texas has almost seven times as many petroleum engineers. Louisiana, too, shows its reliance on energy: There are 20 times more riggers in the state than would be expected. Other states show similar reliance on certain industries: West Virginia has 77 times more mine shuttle car operators than would be expected. Nevada, meanwhile, is home to 32 times more gaming supervisors. Oregon has more than 40 times as many loggers. The results in some other states are more curious, although perhaps not for those who live there. Mississippi has almost 17 times more upholsterers within its borders than would be expected based on the profession’s prevalence elsewhere. Missouri has almost four times as many psychiatric technicians. In South Carolina, there are almost 12 times more tire builders. It’s worth noting the numbers don’t show that one state or the other necessarily has more people working in a given profession than others. The analysis takes the overall prevalence of certain professions nationwide and compares the expected concentration — relative to a state’s population — with how many people are actually working in those jobs in a given state.

What’s Killing White Women? [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (3/5/15)

Black women have a much higher mortality rate, but it has declined significantly—23 percent since 1999. Hispanic women also posted declines. (Hispanics of all age groups, both men and women, have lower mortality rates than average, a demographic phenomenon known as the Hispanic paradox.) Part of the jump in the death rate for whites is explained by the epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse and overdoses that disproportionately affected whites. But that accounts for only half the total increase, according to the report. Other causes of death on the rise include suicide and respiratory disease. Some declined, including traffic deaths, homicides, and the cancers most closely linked to smoking. Though overdose deaths among blacks also increased, the rise was smaller. And overall mortality for black women fell dramatically, with declines in deaths from cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, and cancers, among other causes…We don’t have enough evidence to tell whether the increase is a temporary one linked to painkiller abuse or if it’s a long-term shift. The authors cite examples of other short-term spikes in mortality. Deaths increased for black women in the U.S. during the crack epidemic. For Russian men, death rates linked to alcoholism are still high but appear to be declining. A grimmer possibility: The pattern may reflect “a systematic reversal in the long-term trend of mortality decline” for white women, according to the Urban Institute paper. Such a shift could be linked to social and economic circumstances. Poorer people generally have poorer health for a variety of reasons, and growing inequality could be weighing on death rates.

Girls Still Lag Behind Boys at Math, Study Finds [Melissa Korn on The Wall Street Journal] (3/5/15)

Using results from a 2012 assessment given to about a half-million 15-year-olds around the world, a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds that even though more boys struggled to show basic proficiency in reading, math and science than did girls, boys still ultimately outperformed girls in math. The gap was widest at the top, with high-achieving boys scoring significantly higher than the top girls.

Here’s Why Jon Stewart Quitting ‘The Daily Show’ is So Painful for Democrats [Joshua Green on Bloomberg News] (2/11/15)

When placing political ads on television, buyers want to make sure they’re reaching people in the right party and that those people are likely to vote on Election Day. You don’t want to screw this up. A few years ago, when Donald Trump was on his birther tear, the ratings for Celebrity Apprentice tanked because his toxic right-wing politics drove away his heavily liberal audience. Although this chart is a couple years out of date (Piers Morgan!), you can see that Stewart’s audience is both a) extremely liberal, and b) very likely to turn out to vote. Even more so than the audience of the dearly departed Stephen Colbert. And this data undoubtedly understates the true influence of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report because both shows occupied such a prominent space in the Gen X/Gen Y psyche, even if Morgan had even more liberal, civic-minded viewers. All in all, this is rough news for Democrats.

The CIA’s Secret Psychological Profiles of Dictators and World Leaders Are Amazing [Dave Gilson on Mother Jones] (2/11/15)

The CIA studied the Vietnamese leader and revolutionary in the 1950s. Findings: The report remains classified, but a 1994 article by Thomas Omestad in Foreign Policy (not online) cites a retired Marine who saw it while working with the agency. The source told Omestad that the CIA misread Ho’s political motivations and goals. A product of the Cold War, the profile “exaggerated Ho’s Marxism and underestimated his ardent nationalism.”

Scientists Are Wrong All the Time, and That’s Fantastic [Marcus Woo on Wired] (2/27/15)

No matter how an experiment got screwed up, “negative results can be extremely exciting and useful—sometimes even more useful than positive results,” says John Ioannidis, a biologist at Stanford who published a now-famous paper suggesting that most scientific studies are wrong. The problem with science isn’t that scientists can be wrong: It’s that when they’re proven wrong, it’s way too hard for people to find out.

Masters of Love [Emily Esfahani Smith on The Atlantic] (6/12/14)

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time. But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a highly aroused husband might say to his wife, “Why don’t you start talking about your day. It won’t take you very long.” The masters, by contrast, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It’s not that the masters had, by default, a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

How Gmail Happened: The Inside Story of Its Launch 10 Years Ago [Harry McCracken on Time Magazine] (4/1/14)

Gmail is often given as a shining example of the fruits of Google’s 20 percent time, its legendary policy of allowing engineers to divvy off part of their work hours for personal projects. Paul Buchheit, Gmail’s creator, disabused me of this notion. From the very beginning, “it was an official charge,” he says. “I was supposed to build an email thing.” He began his work in August 2001. But the service was a sequel of sorts to a failed effort that dated from several years before he joined Google in 1999, becoming its 23rd employee…The fact that Gmail began with a search feature that was far better than anything offered by the major email services profoundly shaped its character. If it had merely matched Hotmail’s capacity, it wouldn’t have needed industrial-strength search. It’s tough, after all, to lose anything when all you’ve got is a couple of megabytes of space. But serious search practically begged for serious storage: It opened up the possibility of keeping all of your email, forever, rather than deleting it frantically to stay under your limit. That led to the eventual decision to give each user 1GB of space, a figure Google settled on after considering capacities that were generous but not preposterous, such as 100MB.

Later, Baby: Will Freezing Your Eggs Free Your Career? [Emma Rosenblum on Bloomberg Businessweek] (4/17/14)

The egg freezing generation, those latchkey kids of glass-ceiling breakers, were taught “that you create your career, and then everything else falls into place,” says Lauren, a 34-year-old lawyer in Los Angeles who froze her eggs in January and, like many of the women interviewed for this article, declined to reveal her full name in a national magazine for fear of staying single forever. “But now I know it’s not as easy as that.” Work hard, put off kids, and you might find yourself at 40 hearing a fertility doctor deliver the bad news. According to a 2008 analysis of data from the National Survey of Family Growth, among women 40 to 44, there are equal numbers of those who are childless by choice and those who would like to have children but can’t conceive. Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning. The average age of women who freeze their eggs is about 37, down from 39 only two years ago. (“Desperation level,” as Brigitte Adams, a marketing director at a Los Angeles software company who froze her eggs at 39, puts it.) And fertility doctors report that more women in their early 30s are coming in for the procedure. Not only do younger women have healthier eggs, they also have more time before they have to use them.

Font War: Inside the Design World’s $20 Million Divorce [Joshua Brustein on Bloomberg Businessweek] (5/15/14)

Gotham is one hell of a typeface. Its Os are round, its capital letters sturdy and square, and it has the simplicity of a geometric sans without feeling clinical…Critics have praised Gotham as blue collar, nostalgic yet “exquisitely contemporary,” and “simply self evident.” It’s also ubiquitous. Gotham has appeared on Netflix (NFLX) envelopes, Coca-Cola (KO) cans, and in the Saturday Night Live logo. It was on display at the Museum of Modern Art from 2011 to 2012 and continues to be part of the museum’s permanent collection. It also helped elect a president: In 2008, Barack Obama’s team chose Gotham as the official typeface of the campaign and used it to spell out the word HOPE on its iconic posters. Among those who draw letters for a living, Gotham is most notable for being the crowning achievement of two of the leaders of their tribe, Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler. The two men seemed to be on parallel paths since the summer of 1970, when they were both born in New York. Hoefler and Frere-Jones were already prominent designers when they began operating as Hoefler&Frere-Jones in 1999, having decided to join forces instead of continuing their race to be type design’s top boy wonder. Each would serve as an editor for the other, and they would combine their efforts to promote the work they did together. Colleagues still struggle to explain what a big deal this was at the time…In January, Frere-Jones filed a lawsuit against Hoefler, saying that their company was not actually a partnership, but a long con in which Hoefler had tricked him into signing over the rights to all of his work, cheating Frere-Jones out of his half of the business.

The Invention of the Slurpee [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (4/8/14)

Knedlik’s franchise didn’t have a soda fountain, so he began placing shipments of bottled soda in his freezer to keep them cool. On one occasion, he left the sodas in a little too long, and had to apologetically serve them to his customers half-frozen; they were immensely popular.  When people began to show up demanding the beverages, Knedlik realized he had to find a way to scale, and formulated plans to build a machine that could help him do so. He reached out to The John E. Mitchell Company — a Dallas-based outfit that had previously made cotton cleaning equipment, but had “pivoted” into selling aftermarket automobile air conditioners. The company developed an interest in becoming an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and agreed to help Knedlik with his vision. Five years of trial and error ensued, resulting in a contraption that utilized an automobile air conditioning unit to replicate a slushy consistency. The machine featured a separate spout for each flavor (only two at this point), and a “tumbler” which constantly rotated the contents to keep them from becoming a frozen block.  Initially, Knedlik thought to name his product “scoldasice” but when an ad-man friend persuaded him otherwise, he hired a young local artist, Ruth E. Taylor, to do branding. Taylor coined the “ICEE” name, and drew up a mock sketch of the iconic original logo — four letters placed in blue and red boxes, adorned with ice (a feature that has remained unchanged today). She also conceived the idea to use a polar bear, though the goofy (but endearing) mascot used by Knedlik was eventually developed by Norsworthy-Mercer, an external ad agency. Taylor’s designs were modified and finalized by a staff artist at Mitchell Company (the machine manufacturer), and the ICEE company formulated a business plan. For a rental fee, businesses could license a specified number of ICEE dispensers and have exclusive distribution rights in their territories.  By the mid-1960s, 300 companies had ICEE machines in operation; 7-Eleven was one of them.

Being Really, Really, Ridiculously Good Looking [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (4/25/13)

However, academic work on beauty finds that much of what we find attractive is consistent over time and across cultures. In general, people find symmetry and averageness of features attractive in faces. When images of perfectly symmetrical faces are created in Photoshop, people like them better. The same is true of photos created by merging many faces to get a composite. Scientists speculate that we prefer symmetry and average features because they (at least at some point) indicated healthy genes or other evolutionary advantages. More evidence of a universal, objective basis for beauty comes from studies of babies presented with pictures of different faces. The pictures the babies gazed at the longest were consistently the ones rated as most attractive by panels of adults.

The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs [Ethan Watters on Pacific Standard Magazine] (3/3/14)

At the most quotidian level, Thornhill finds it easy to convince people that humans likewise manifest such instinctual behaviors to avoid infection and illness. Some of these habits very much parallel those seen in other creatures. I admitted to Thornhill that I had recently been displaying a bit of grooming behavior myself after the youngest primate in my care came home from preschool itching with head lice. Like Mashudu, we humans remove waste from our living quarters. We ostracize our sick, at least to the extent that we expect those with the flu to stay home from work or school. And similar to the lowly ant, we assign a small number of our fellows the solemn duty of hauling away and disposing of our dead. On examination, everyday life is full of small defensive moves against contamination, some motivated by feelings, like disgust, that arise without conscious reflection. When you open the door of a gas station bathroom only to decide you can hold it for a few more miles, or when you put as much distance as possible between yourself and a person who is coughing and sneezing in a waiting room, you are displaying a behavioral immune response. But these individual actions are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Thornhill and a growing camp of evolutionary theorists. Our moment-to-moment psychological reactions to the threat of illness, they suggest, have a huge cumulative effect on culture. Not only that—and here’s where Thornhill’s theory really starts to fire the imagination—these deep interactions between local pathogens and human social evolution may explain many of the basic differences we observe between cultures. How does your culture behave toward strangers? What kind of government do you live under? Who are your sexual partners? What values do you share? All of these questions may mask a more fundamental one: What germs are you warding off? The threat of disease is not uniform around the world. In general, higher, colder, and drier regions have fewer infectious diseases than warmer, wetter climates. To survive, people in this latter sort of terrain must withstand a higher degree of “pathogen stress.” Thornhill and his colleagues theorize that, over time, the pathogen stress endemic to a place tends to steer a culture in distinct ways.

The Untold Story Of Larry Page’s Incredible Comeback [Nicholas Carlson on Business Insider] (4/24/14)

Rosing explained that engineering was getting a reorganization: All engineers would now report to him, all project managers were out of a job. The news did not go over well. The project managers were stunned. They hadn’t been warned. They’d just been fired in front of all their colleagues. The engineers demanded an explanation. So Page gave one. With little emotion, speaking in his usual flat, robotic tone, he explained that he didn’t like having non-engineers supervising engineers. Engineers shouldn’t have to be supervised by managers with limited tech knowledge. Finally, he said, Google’s project managers just weren’t doing a very good job. As Page talked, he kept his gaze averted, resisting direct eye contact. Though he was an appealing presence with above-average height and nearly black hair, he was socially awkward. The news was met with a chorus of grumbling. Finally, one of the engineers in the room, Ron Dolin, started yelling at Page. He said an all-hands meeting was no place to give a performance review. What Page was doing was “completely ridiculous,” he said, and “totally unprofessional.”

The Ice Sculpture Business [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (4/28/14)

Typically, an ice sculptor started with a standard block of ice (40”x20”x10”), drew out his design on paper, traced it onto the ice, and spent “15-20 minutes chainsawing the stuff off that didn’t need to be there” before detailing it. In the last decade, specialized CNC ice machines have been introduced. The machines, which are operated using computer programs, quickly cut out logos and figures with unbridled precision, and have completely changed the industry.

Why Do We Eat, and Why Do We Gain Weight? [Maria Konnikova on The New Yorker] (4/9/14)

In 2011, Mark Bouton, a psychologist at the University of Vermont, conducted a review of the types of conditional and operant stimuli that increase a craving for a specific food or our desire to eat more generally. He found that two types of cues play an important role. On the one hand, there are food-specific cues: a certain packaging or color associated with a preferred food (say, the distinctive red and orange of a Doritos logo and bag), a certain sound (someone opening the bag), a certain smell (the scent of the chips), or a certain taste (a hint of saltiness). But equally important are environmental cues that seem unrelated to food: the couch on which you typically watch movies while eating popcorn, a social gathering like a Super Bowl party, a sporting event, a shopping mall. These cues, in turn, are very difficult to unlearn. If you have a habit of snacking on Oreos while watching “Mad Men,” it will be tough to get through an episode without craving your cookie. (TV, in fact, is a particularly difficult stimulus to control; regardless of other ambient conditions, we tend to eat more when the television is on.)

Power, Pollution and the Internet [James Glanz on The New York Times] (9/22/12)

Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found. To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters. Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.

Clash of Civilizations? There’s No Such Thing [Charles Kenny on Bloomberg News] (3/12/15)

Huntington’s 1993 essay suggested that “Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state often have little resonance” in other cultures. Attachment to the nation-state was weakening, and “in much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap.” Battles among “princes, nation-states, and ideologies” were largely a thing of the past, as “the principle conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations”: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic, Latin American, and African. In some ways, Huntington’s essay looks impressively prescient. Many Arab countries were reaching economic and social development where “efforts to introduce democracy become stronger,” but Huntington warned the “principle beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements.” He noted that in Italy, France, and Germany, political reactions against Arab immigrants would become more intense, as would tensions between Northern (Muslim) and Southern (Christian) Nigeria — all of which now seems farsighted. And even if the evidence is weak that the world has become a lot more religious over the past few decades, it certainly hasn’t become any less so: Around the world, most of the countries for which we have data are seeing rising attendance at religious services. But there’s little evidence that support for the nation-state is being replaced by religious loyalties, or that democratic liberalism is waning, or that civilizations are drifting apart into religion-based regional blocs. And conflicts, while frequently involving cultural divides, remain stubbornly concentrated within, not across, Huntington’s civilizations.

The Luxury Repo Men [Matthew Teague on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/25/12)

Cage and his guys make a living taking from the rich. He’s one of a handful of the world’s most sophisticated repo men. And while the language may be different from the doorbusters who grab TVs, the game is the same: On behalf of banks Cage nabs high-dollar toys from self-styled magnates who find themselves overleveraged. Many of the deadbeat owners made a killing in finance and real estate during the economic bubble—expanding it, even—and were caught out of position when it burst. So now men like Cage steal $20 million jets like they were jalopies. And fast boats. Even, on one occasion, a racehorse.

The Science of “Intuition” [Maria Popova on Brain Pickings] (October 2012)

One of the first things that modern research on intuition has clearly shown is that there is no such thing as an intuitive person tout court. Intuition is a domain-specific ability, so that people can be very intuitive about one thing (say, medical practice, or chess playing) and just as clueless as the average person about pretty much everything else. Moreover, intuitions get better with practice — especially with a lot of practice — because at bottom intuition is about the brain’s ability to pick up on certain recurring patterns; the more we are exposed to a particular domain of activity the more familiar we become with the relevant patterns (medical charts, positions of chess pieces), and the more and faster our brains generate heuristic solutions to the problem we happen to be facing within that domain.

Study Finds Swans Only Other Animals Who Mate For Few Years, Get Scared, End Things, Then Regret It [The Onion] (3/12/15)

Revealing how closely the waterfowl’s social behavior resembles that of humans, a study released Thursday by the University of Georgia has found that swans are the only other members of the animal kingdom that mate for a few years, get scared, decide to end things, and are later filled with immense regret.

Man Completes Life $130,000 Over Budget [The Onion] (3/10/15)

Sources confirmed that his life would likely be considered a loss, as it did not generate sufficient yields to justify its creation.

Curiously Strong Remains:


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Roundup – Transformers in a Nutshell

Best of the Best:

Philip K. Dick On Fine-Tuning Your B.S.-Meter To Spot “Pseudo-Realities” [Phillip K. Dick via io9] (2/25/15)

I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.

Expressing Your Insecurities to Your Partner Can Actually Create More Insecurities. Here’s Why. [Samantha Joel on The Science of Relationships] (2/23/15)

Again, the researchers found strong support for their model: People who expressed more vulnerabilities to their friend/partner tended to believe that this person saw them as insecure, which in turn led them to doubt that person’s authenticity, which in turn led them to believe that this person viewed them more negatively. Over time, this belief that the person viewed them more negatively led the person to express even more vulnerabilities, and thus the whole cycle would continue to worsen over time. Furthermore, these effects occurred independently from the friends’ partners’ views…Maybe, rather than trying to change how we express our insecurities to close others, we should instead try to change our perceptions of how those close others are reacting to our insecurities. If you believe that someone sees you as insecure or that they’re walking on eggshells around you, those beliefs are more likely a projection of your own feelings than they are an accurate assessment of how the person feels. You are far more aware of your own insecurities than anyone else is. In fact, research shows that it’s precisely when you’re feeling the most insecure that you’re most likely to underestimate how much the close people in your life care about you and how positively they feel about you. So, the next time a close friend or a romantic partner tells you something complimentary, try taking it at face value. In all likelihood they do mean it, or they wouldn’t be saying it.

American Sniper Fans React Completely Reasonably [Spilly on KSK] (2/25/15)

Hailey, you’ve got a strong contender for take of the week. There’s the capitalization of every word, the random usage of “Proff”, and the lack of a fourth digit in ‘2,000’. It’s really a quintessential Facebook comment, even without diving into the content. Once you do, you realize that if all award shows perfectly mirrored what Facebook deems is popular, every Pulitzer prize would be awarded to Buzzfeed clickbait articles about 90s kids.

Does Parenting Make People Happy or Miserable? [Bonnie Le on The Science of Relationships] (2/25/15)

First, the age of parents and their children play a role in how happy parents are. Parents who are older and who have older children tend to be happier given that they are relatively more mature and financially stable. Further, parents of older children feel more effective at parenting and may experience greater happiness if they have positive and supportive relationships with their older children. Gender, marital status, and education level matter too. For instance, men tend to experience greater well-being from becoming parents. The picture is less clear for women; parenthood has been linked to greater happiness in some studies and to less happiness in other studies, likely because women tend to engage in child rearing tasks that center upon both routine and play, while men tend to spend a greater proportion of their caregiving time on play. In addition, married parents tend to have relatively greater happiness than their non-married counterparts given the increased social support available to married adults, lower financial strain, and greater help with chores and housework. And lastly, parental education and socioeconomic status relate to happiness as well. Specifically, parents of higher education and socioeconomic status find less value and fulfillment in parenting relative to those who are lower in socioeconomic status and education, with research indicating that these parents may find parenting to conflict with other goals in their lives, such as their careers…So, does parenting make people happy or miserable? What we’ve learned from research is, it depends! Some parents may be happier than others on average, but on the whole, having children can be both stressful and demanding, but can also provide parents with great joy and meaning in many ways.

Astrology could help take pressure off NHS doctors, claims Conservative MP [The Guardian] (2/24/15)

David Tredinnick said astrology, along with complementary medicine, could take pressure off NHS doctors, but acknowledged that any attempt to spend taxpayers’ money on consulting the stars would cause “a huge row”. He criticised the BBC and TV scientist Professor Brian Cox for taking a “dismissive” approach to astrology, and accused opponents of being “racially prejudiced”.

Sharing A Room Before Sharing Vows? What You Should Know Before Cohabiting [Jana Lembke on The Science of Relationships] (2/19/15)

One recent study of 280 cohabiting individuals found that people’s primary reasons for living together mattered for their relationship quality.4 Specifically, cohabiting for the purpose of spending time together was linked with greater relationship satisfaction, higher commitment, and lower conflict. In contrast, other reasons for cohabiting were associated with less desirable outcomes. People who reported living together to “test the relationship” reported greater ambivalence about the relationship, while those citing “convenience” as the main reason reported lower commitment – a risk factor for cheating. These findings mean that identifying specific motives behind wanting to live with someone is important in deciding whether cohabitation will likely help or harm the relationship. Another study suggests that it’s important for both partners to be clear about their goals when it comes to making relationship decisions like moving in together. The researchers found that regardless of whether partners were dating, cohabiting, or married, those who reported engaging in more thoughtful decision-making processes (e.g., reflecting on the risks and benefits of the decision; communicating intentions) were more dedicated to their partners, more satisfied with their relationships, and less likely to cheat. In other words, cohabitation is more likely to confer positive relationship outcomes when partners are on the same page about the decision and they engage in proactive discussions about potential challenges. The bottom line: Cohabitation is increasingly seen as a relationship milestone, but it doesn’t mean that engagement is around the corner. In fact, moving in with a dating partner for shortsighted reasons or just because you’ve been with them for awhile may invite problems later on. There may be value in cohabiting to spend more time with your partner on a daily basis, but when you anticipate spending a lifetime together, why rush?

The Open-Office Trap [Maria Konnikova on The New Yorker] (1/7/14)

In June, 1997, a large oil and gas company in western Canada asked a group of psychologists at the University of Calgary to monitor workers as they transitioned from a traditional office arrangement to an open one. The psychologists assessed the employees’ satisfaction with their surroundings, as well as their stress level, job performance, and interpersonal relationships before the transition, four weeks after the transition, and, finally, six months afterward. The employees suffered according to every measure: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and, instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity fell. In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation. When David Craig surveyed some thirty-eight thousand workers, he found that interruptions by colleagues were detrimental to productivity, and that the more senior the employee, the worse she fared. Psychologically, the repercussions of open offices are relatively straightforward. Physical barriers have been closely linked to psychological privacy, and a sense of privacy boosts job performance. Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness. In a 2005 study that looked at organizations ranging from a Midwest auto supplier to a Southwest telecom firm, researchers found that the ability to control the environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction. When workers couldn’t change the way that things looked, adjust the lighting and temperature, or choose how to conduct meetings, spirits plummeted.

Smart Girls Wear Flats, Leave Heels Behind [Rachel Bergstein via Bloomberg News] (5/16/12)

The 1950s were a historically rigid decade, in which women could be either a lonely intellectual or a vapid sexpot. The question of whether one could be both an Audrey and a Marilyn didn’t emerge until the 1960s, when the sexuality of the stiletto and the practicality of the flat merged in the low-heeled boot — made for flirting, butt-kicking and, most important, walking.

NRA-Backed Law Spells Out When Indianans May Open Fire on Police [Mark Niquette on Bloomberg News] (6/4/12)

Indiana is the first U.S. state to specifically allow force against officers, according to the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in Washington, which represents and supports prosecutors. The National Rifle Association pushed for the law, saying an unfavorable court decision made the need clear and that it would allow homeowners to defend themselves during a violent, unjustified attack. Police lobbied against it.

The stress of being bisexual drives young people to drink [George Dvorsky on io9] (6/7/12)

A study from the University of Missouri is suggesting that young adults who don’t identify their sexual orientation as being either exclusively heterosexual or homosexual tend to misuse alcohol more frequently than people who have a firmly defined sexual orientation. The authors of the study speculate that college students who are coming out as bisexual, or experimenting with their sexual orientation, in college may be stressed out because of it, and as a result, are engaging in risky behaviors — most notably heavy drinking.

America was bombed 1,000 times during World War II [Esther Inglis-Arkell on io9] (6/7/12)

School children in Japan were asked to make gigantic balloons, thirty-three feet in diameter. The first prototypes were made out of paper, but later ones were made from silk. The balloons, when filled with hydrogen gas, were buoyant enough to carry a thirty-three pound bomb, as well as a few incendiary bombs and thirty-six sandbags. When released they would shoot up to 35,000 feet. They’d leak gas, slowly dropping, until a barometer caused one of the sand bags to drop off into the sea, at which point they’d go up to 35,000 feet again. The balloons could travel on air currents at up to 120 miles per hour, and so, when the last sandbag fell, they descended onto North America. For navigatorless objects, drifting on the wind, a surprising amount of them made it over the sea. Out of the nine thousand launched, about one thousand reached land, while the rest exploded in the sky or dropped into the ocean. The bombs went off as far east as Kansas and Texas. Some drifted down to Mexico, and some up to Canada. Although the bombs caused a few fires, American officials asked people not to talk widely about them. The bombs didn’t cause any actual casualties until 1945. Six people, five of them children, were killed at a church picnic, when they saw a deflated balloon and touched the bomb, not knowing what it was. A sad but touching epilogue came from the Japanese children who had built the balloons, also not knowing what they were. In the late 1980s, they sent letters and paper cranes to the families of the people who’d been at the picnic.

10 Weirdest Urban Ecosystems On Earth [Charlie Jane Anders and Kelly Faircloth on io9] (6/14/12)

Mitsubishi bought a reef and built it out into an artificial island, a kilometer long, so the company would have a base for undersea coal mining operations in the area. And for many years, it was the world’s most densely populated place, with 85,500 people per square kilometer in 1959 — and 135,000 people per square kilometer in the densest areas. The name, Gunkanjima, is Japanese for “Battleship Island,” because the artificial island resembles a battleship when seen from the ocean. The island was completely closed down in 1975, when the coal ran out, and now it’s quite possibly the world’s largest ghost town.

America’s Most Important Cities: 1978 vs. 2010 [Jordan Weissman on The Atlantic] (6/26/12)

First, there’s the fall of the Rust Belt and the rise of the Sun Belt. As the country’s economy eased away from manufacturing, which tends to be clustered in discrete regions, and towards services, which can be almost anywhere, people moved away from the old, frigid, and declining industrial centers towards states with cheap real estate and warm weather. Population growth ultimately means economic growth. And so you see the emergence of places like Riverside, Phoenix, Orlando, and Tampa. Second, there’s the dominance of finance. If New York had the same GDP today that did in 1978, it would still have the second largest economy of any American metro region. Instead, it nearly doubled. Same for Chicago. Not coincidentally, both of those cities consistently top lists of the world’s financial centers. This has allowed them to overcome their slow population growth by generating more economic activity per resident. These are still massively populated metro areas. But they’re also cities of bankers or commodity traders instead of retirees.

U.S. Government insists that mermaids do not exist [Charlie Jane Anders on i09] (7/3/12)

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement explaining that no evidence of the existence of mermaids “has ever been found.” NOAA explains helpfully that belief in mermaids may go back as far as 30,000 years, to a time when humans first began “to sail the seas.” So why does this government agency feel the need to clarify for the public that Ariel isn’t really hanging out in the ocean with Flotsam and Jetsam? Discovery News explains. Apparently, it’s all because of a show on Animal Planet (Discovery’s sister channel) called Mermaids: The Body Found.

5 Ways Process Is Killing Your Productivity [Lisa Bodell on Fast Company] (5/15/12)

But it’s not a good thing when there are so many processes in place that they restrain the people they’re supposed to help. If your team spends its days asking for permission before executing, taking an hour to complete expense reports or time sheets, attending redundant meetings, or answering irrelevant emails, you’ve got a problem. Exactly when are employees supposed to find the time to innovate when every task or topic is labeled “urgent” and every deadline is ASAP? Something will eventually give, and that something is going to be the part of the job they can keep pushing off until later.

[Clients From Hell] (8/21/13)

A description of a logo a client wanted:

I would like to create a logo of a heartbroken woman in a wheel chair with mascara running down her cheeks and with her torso shaped like a broken heart held together with safety pins – and when she looks into the mirror, the reflection she sees is a Sexy Jessica Rabbit, Powerful Woman and [the] broken heart is now her proud/inflated chest.  The mirror should be inside of a door frame and there should be 9 keys dangling above the key hole on the door.  Make sense? Your thoughts?

I told her she would have to get a full illustrator for this “logo”. It never came to fruition.

Tweets of the words “beer” and “church” by U.S. county [Monica Stephens on FloatingSheep via Robbie Gonazalez on io9] (7/6/12)

San Francisco has the largest margin in favor of “beer” tweets (191 compared to 46 for “church”) with Boston (Suffolk county) running a close second. Los Angeles has the distinction of containing the most tweets overall (busy, busy thumbs in Southern California). In contrast, Dallas, Texas wins the FloatingSheep award for most geotagged tweets about “church” with 178 compared to only 83 about “beer.”

10 Science Experiments That Looked Like the End of the World [Keith Veronese on io9] (7/6/12)

New Zealand experimented with the use of bombs to create artificial tsunamis, between 1944 and 1945. By strategically placing bombs, the military scientists behind New Zealand’s Project Seal believed they could divert explosive energy through water, causing tsunamis and tidal waves. After thousands of test explosions, New Zealand ceased experimentation, because military scientists kept having trouble with funneling the explosive energy in a horizontal direction. If New Zealand’s tsunami bomb experiments had been successful, tsunami creation could have gone mainstream — allowing anyone with a conventional explosive device to create widespread chaos and death with ease.

The Dream Will Never Die:An Oral History of the Dream Team [Lang Whitaker on Gentlemen’s Quarterly] (July 2012)

Allan Houston (college squad player): The clock ran out—we had a twenty-minute clock—and we were up. And everybody looked around sheepishly, like, This is not supposed to happen. Nobody said anything for a few minutes.

Karl Malone (Team USA): We took them for granted, and they kicked our butt. And Coach Daly just had that look on his face like, “Well, this is what we told you guys. You gotta be ready.” After that, we was chomping at the bit to play them again that same day, but he didn’t let us. He let us stew on it a little bit.

Chris Webber (college squad player): When we busted their ass, they didn’t say any prima donna stuff—”We let you win.” That night was special. I remember me and Bobby Hurley decimating the golf course on some golf carts because we were so excited.

Houston: Back at the hotel, I was on the same elevator as Bird and C-Webb, and C-Webb was chirping. Bird got off the elevator and said, “Don’t worry, tomorrow’s a new day.” He kind of left us with that thought. And yeah, we got back in there, and it was a new day. [laughs]

Charles Barkley (Team USA): We sent them a little message.

Webber: We didn’t score a point. Not one point. Not a point on a free throw, not a point in the game. We were the perfect wake-up call for them, and they were the perfect reality check for us.

Curiously Strong Remains:


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


Roundup – Paperboy 3: The Hard Way

Best of the Best:

Dog Bites and Lost Fingers: An Ebola Doctor’s Diary [Douglas Lyon via Bloomberg News] (12/2/14)

A day later, a pregnant staff nurse arrived. She had been bitten by a neighbor’s wild dog and wanted to be vaccinated against rabies. I could see the bite had broken the skin. It didn’t look infected. I checked to see if we had vaccine and immunoglobulin, which is used to kick-start an immune response. We had a very limited supply and strict guidelines for use. We could only offer treatment after a careful investigation to determine if the animal was infected. I gently told the nurse that she would have to find and isolate the dog before we could review her case. I was both uneasy and relieved. For at least another day there would be no needles, no blood, and no need for protective suits, but I felt crummy that we had pushed any potential resolution back to the patient – which fell far short of what I really wanted to do for her.

How NBC’s The Voice Sold 20 Million Songs Without a Single Star [Claire Suddath on Bloomberg Business] (12/3/14)

It’s surprising that millions of people are downloading Voice songs, and not just because it means they’re paying amateur singers to cover existing songs that have already been recorded much more deftly by other artists. The Voice’s Matthew Schuler has a nice voice and all, but both Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley have all the “Hallelujahs” you’ll ever need. And what’s most surprising about the 20 million milestone is how successful The Voice has been at marketing its music without producing a star.

Obamacare’s Future: Cancer Patients Paying More for Medication [John Tozzi on Bloomberg Business]

People with Obamacare coverage who take medications for cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic diseases might pay more out of pocket next year. A greater share of insurance plans sold in the marketplace will require consumers to pay 30 percent or more of the cost of specialty drugs, according to a new analysis from consultant Avalere Health. Cost sharing is one of the ways insurers can limit premiums. Patients pay for a greater portion of the medical care they need through deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance. That last technique splits the bill for medical care, with patients paying a fixed percentage of the total cost and the insurance plan picking up the rest. Avalere looked at how much cost sharing was required for drugs insurers considered “specialty” medicines. There’s no consistent definition of specialty drugs; the term generally refers to medicine used to treat severe or rare illnesses. The doses can cost thousands of dollars a month. Asking patients to pay 30 percent of that can mean some people skip doses they can’t afford. Yet the share of silver plans—the most popular tier of Obamacare coverage—that required that level of cost sharing jumped to 41 percent, from 27 percent last year, according to Avalere. The analysis included plans on the federal marketplace and state exchanges in New York and California; other state-based exchanges were not included.

At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covert [Emily Wax-Thibodeaux on The Washington Post] (9/27/14)

The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world. But these aren’t just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks. “They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”

41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground [Spencer Ackerman on The Guardian] (11/24/14)

The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur. Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not. However many Americans know who Zawahiri is, far fewer are familiar with Qari Hussain. Hussain was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida that trained the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, before his unsuccessful 2010 attack. The drones first came for Hussain years before, on 29 January 2008. Then they came on 23 June 2009, 15 January 2010, 2 October 2010 and 7 October 2010. Finally, on 15 October 2010, Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator or Reaper drone killed Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban later confirmed. For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm.

Bouncy Houses Are So Fun and So Dangerous [Karen Aho on Bloomberg Business] (7/16/14)

Although news of a bouncy house that blew away with kids inside went viral in June, the far more common hazards are broken bones, sprains, and hard head bumps. Almost 11,000 children, most between ages 6 and 12, were treated in emergency rooms for bouncy house injuries in 2010, up fivefold over the period from 1990 to 2005, according to the latest data available…Small bouncy house providers that aren’t adequately insured may arrive with waivers in hand, which could hold the homeowner responsible for additional damages, Baird says. Homeowner’s insurance covers guests injured in a bouncy house on the property, with basic plans providing $100,000 in liability coverage. “It does expose you, the homeowner, to a significant amount of risk,” he says. Especially if it blows away.

Israel Can’t Be an Unequal Democracy [Noah Feldman, professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University, via Bloomberg Views] (11/28/14)

Insisting on equality of treatment and participation is what keeps democracy from devolving into the dictatorship of the majority. Guarantees of equality, alongside guarantees of liberty and the rule of law, are what make constitutional democracy special. Without them, democracy would mean nothing more than majority rule — and could include any regime where the government came to power by a vote. In the past, Israel’s basic laws, like its declaration of independence, have reconciled the Jewish nature of the state with fundamental equality values by referring to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state. Although the exact meaning has always been contested, Israel’s courts as well as its legal scholars — and frequently, its politicians — have generally agreed that Jewishness and democracy were being placed upon an equal footing. Palestinian citizens of Israel have therefore always been legally entitled to equality despite not being Jewish.

Can a ‘Jewish State’ Be a Democracy? [Daniel Gordis, senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jersualem, via Bloomberg View]

‘A Universe Beneath Our Feet': Life In Beijing’s Underground [NPR] (12/7/14)

In Beijing, even the tiniest apartment can cost a fortune — after all, with more than 21 million residents, space is limited and demand is high. But it is possible to find more affordable housing. You’ll just have to join an estimated 1 million of the city’s residents and look underground. Below the city’s bustling streets, bomb shelters and storage basements are turned into illegal — but affordable — apartments.

Law Puts Us All in Same Danger as Eric Garner [Stephen L. Carter via Bloomberg View] (12/4/14)

On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you. I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn’t. Whatever your view on the refusal of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer whose chokehold apparently led to the death of Eric Garner, it’s useful to remember the crime that Garner is alleged to have committed: He was selling individual cigarettes, or loosies, in violation of New York law…The legal scholar Douglas Husak, in his excellent 2009 book “Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law,” points out that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes, fewer than half of which found in the Federal Criminal Code. The rest are scattered through other statutes. A citizen who wants to abide by the law has no quick and easy way to find out what the law actually is — a violation of the traditional principle that the state cannot punish without fair notice. In addition to these statutes, he writes, an astonishing 300,000 or more federal regulations may be enforceable through criminal punishment in the discretion of an administrative agency. Nobody knows the number for sure.

The Pearl Harbor Myth [Alan D. Zimm on History Net]

In just 90 minutes, the Japanese had inflicted a devastating blow: five battleships were sunk, three battleships, three cruisers, and three destroyers were damaged, and nearly 200 aircraft were destroyed. The most devastating loss was the 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 wounded. Michael Slackman, a consulting historian to the U.S. Navy, described the attack as “almost textbook perfect” in his book Target: Pearl Harbor (1990). Gordon Prange, the battle’s leading historian, judged it “brilliantly conceived and meticulously planned.” Another prominent historian, Robert L. O’Connell, author of Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the U.S. Navy (1995), likened it to the perfection of a “flashing samurai sword.” Even the recorded narration on a Pearl Harbor tour boat says the attack was “brilliantly conceived and executed.” Yet a detailed examination of the preparation and execution of the attack on the Pacific Fleet reveals a much different story. Even after 10 months of arduous planning, rehearsal, and intelligence gathering, the attack was plagued by inflexibility, a lack of coordination, and misallocated resources. A plan for a likely contingency was cobbled together by three midgrade officers while en route to Hawaii. The attack itself suffered significant command blunders. Though armed with enough firepower to destroy up to 14 battleships and aircraft carriers, the Japanese landed killing hits on only three battleships; luck, combined with American damage control mistakes, added two more battleships to their tally. Not only was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor far from brilliant, it also narrowly avoided disaster.

Oscars Voter Says ‘There Was No Art To Selma,’ And Other Idiotic Things [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk] (2/18/15)

This person is actually using the studio’s Oscar campaign as a basis for their Oscar vote. This article is an artist’s suicide note.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You’d Get From Fantasy Books [Lauren Davis on io9] (2/20/15)

Actually, if you were a high-ranking individual, chances are that you had high-ranking servants. A lord might send his son to serve in another lord’s manor — perhaps that of his wife’s brother. The son would receive no income, but would still be treated as the son of a lord. A lord’s steward might actually be a lord himself. Your status in society isn’t just based on whether or not you were a servant, but also your familial status, whom you served, and what your particular job was. Something you might not expect about servants in English households in the late Middle Ages: they were overwhelmingly male. Mortimer points to the earl of Devon’s household, which had 135 members, but only three women. With the exception of a washerwoman (who didn’t live in the household), the staffers were all men, even in households headed by women.

Curiously Strong Remains:


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


Roundup – Christopher Walken: Hostage Negotiator

Best of the Best:

If Your Robot Buys Illegal Drugs, Have You Committed a Crime? [Annalee Newitz on io9]

A group of Swiss artists recently set a bot free on the darknet, allowing it to purchase whatever it could with Bitcoins. Among other weird things it bought were a few ecstasy pills and a fake Hungarian passport. Now an attorney asks whether the artists could be arrested under the law as it currently stands…In the United States, at least, criminal law is predominantly statutory. We would have to look to the precise wording of the federal or local law and then apply it to the facts at hand. If, for instance, the law says a person may not knowingly purchase pirated merchandise or drugs, there is an argument that the artists did not violate the law. Whereas if the law says the person may not engage in this behavior recklessly, then the artists may well be found guilty, since they released the bot into an environment where they could be substantially certain some unlawful outcome would occur. I presume they even wanted the bot to yield illegal contraband to make the installation more exciting. Wanting a bad outcome doesn’t make it illegal (you cannot wish someone to death), but purposefully leaving the bot in the darknet until it yielded contraband seems hard to distinguish from intent.

California Prisons End Race-Based Punishments [Paige St. John on Los Angeles Times via Governing Magazine] (10/23/14)

When a group of prisoners attacked two guards at California’s High Desert State Prison in 2006, the warden declared a full lockdown that confined African-Americans in one wing of the prison to their cells, and kept them there for 14 months. No outdoor exercise. No rehabilitation programs or prison jobs. This week, California agreed to give up its unique use of race-based punishment as a tool to control violence in its crowded prisons. Corrections chief Jeffrey Beard and lawyers for inmates have settled a six-year-long civil rights lawsuit, filed in 2008, over the High Desert lockdown. The case was eventually widened to cover all prisoners and lockdown practices that had become common statewide. The agreement now goes to a federal judge for expected approval…Prison lawyers cited as many as 160 race-based lockdowns lasting six weeks or longer in a given year in California. A riot between northern and southern Mexican gangs at Pelican Bay State Prison resulted in a three-year lockdown. During that time, inmates were denied family visits, issued housing and work assignments and assigned outdoor exercise times all based on race.

Saudi War With Islamic State Echoes Kingdom’s Own Past [Glen Carey on Bloomberg] (10/23/14)

When Saudi rulers send warplanes on missions against Islamic State, they’re targeting a group whose theocratic ideology and roots in desert warfare overlap at least partly with the kingdom’s own present and past. The world’s largest oil exporter has evolved into a mostly urban society in its eight decades of statehood, yet nomadic fighters erupting from the desert in a blaze of religious zeal are still part of its foundation narrative. Today in Saudi Arabia, as in the territory controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, women must wear black abayas, shops all close during prayer times, religious police enforce Islamic laws and criminals face violent punishment…Islamic State refers to “the same texts that the Saudi government and official clergy do on religious questions,” and there are “similarities in terms of enforcing public morality,” [Gregory Gause, head of the International Affairs Department at Texas A&M University] said. The group’s biggest threat to the kingdom is “its ability to recruit sympathizers within Saudi Arabia.”

When Detroit Made Potato Chips [Alana Semuels on Tribune News Service via Governing Magazine] (10/16/14)

Detroit might be known for cars and Motown. But its third claim to fame? Potato chip consumption capital of the country. Detroiters consume an average of 7 pounds of chips a year; the rest of the country eats 4 pounds. The loyalty of the Detroit diaspora to one potato chip brand may seem surprising to outsiders, but it makes perfect sense to Sam Cipriano, whose father founded Better Made. Cipriano said people can taste Michigan in the chips: the Michigan-grown potatoes the company uses 10 months out of the year, the Detroit water, the Michigan-made salt.

Karaoke Plays On as Kurds Repel Islamic Extremist Neighbors [Donna Abu-Nasr on Bloomberg] (10/23/14)

It’s Karaoke night at DC Steakhouse in the Iraqi Kurd capital of Erbil, and diners are singing along to love songs as the imported wines and licorice spirits flow in a haze of shisha and cigarette smoke. Rebaz Serbaz and Aram Siddiq, both in the security business, took turns at renditions of a Kurdish song about a man who lost his beloved and fears he won’t see her again before he dies. Fifty miles (80 kilometers) away in Mosul, Islamic State militants punish such a lifestyle with penalties including lashings and death by beheading or stoning. “We want to set an example, to tell the people, ‘go out, relax, don’t be afraid,’” said Serbaz, 29. “If you’re going to die, don’t kneel to anyone,” he said, citing a Kurdish proverb. Almost three months after the streets of Erbil emptied as Islamic State extremists advanced, the subdued city is counting the cost to a once thriving economy. At the same time, it’s trying to show it can remain an oasis of security, prosperity and fun in an Iraq ripped apart by violence.

Arkansas Liquor Stores Join Churches to Save Dry Counties [Esmé E. Deprez and Millie Hogue on Bloomberg] (10/27/14)

Arkansas liquor stores have allied with religious leaders to fight statewide legalization of alcohol sales. The stores in wet counties don’t want to lose customers. The churches don’t want to lose souls. A ballot issue next week asks voters whether to amend their constitution to permit sales of intoxicating liquors in all 75 counties, up from about half. Passage would further erode the shrinking swath of America, mostly in the South, clinging to vestiges of Prohibition even as cultural attitudes and waning religious influence have killed it off elsewhere…Citizens for Local Rights, the opposition group funded by alcohol retailers seeking to preserve their competitive advantage, argues the measure would lead to “beer joints and honky tonks right next to our grade schools and churches,” according to its website. Larry Page, a Southern Baptist pastor and director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, which traces its roots to the Anti-Saloon League of Arkansas in 1899, said the initiative is about more than just the dangers of alcohol…It’s not the first time political issues have made for strange bedfellows, Page said, recalling when his group joined with feminists to oppose pornography and cooperated with Mississippi casinos to fight gambling in Arkansas.

Catholics Are More Progressive Than The Vatican, And Almost Everyone Else  [Carl Bialik on FiveThirtyEight] (10/17/14)

In all but one of the 14 GSS polls over the last quarter century, more Catholics than Protestants said divorce should be easier to get by law. In every survey since 1973, more Catholics than Protestants said gays should be allowed to speak publicly, teach and have books they wrote available in libraries. (If those questions don’t sound like they go very far by today’s standards, keep in mind that the Vatican isn’t going all that far, either, and that when these questions were asked in 1973, more than a third of Americans didn’t agree — half, in the case of teaching.) Also in each survey, more Catholics than Protestants said gay sex was “not wrong at all.” And all four times the GSS asked whether a couple living together unmarried was acceptable, more Catholics than Protestants said it was. A similar pattern emerges in recent international surveys.

Smart people listen to Radiohead and dumb people listen to Beyoncé, according to study [Alex Young on Consequence of Sound] (10/22/14)

For the last several years, a software application writer by the name of Virgil Griffith has charted musical tastes based on the average SAT scores of various college institutions. For example, students attending the California Institute of Technology have an average SAT score of 1520. By looking at Facebook to determine the most popular (or — “liked”) band of students at Cal Tech, Griffith was able to conclude that Radiohead really truly is music for smart people. A highly scientific study, I know. As Digital Inspiration points out, Griffith’s chart reveals Sufjan Stevens, Bob Dylan, The Shins, and — uh — Counting Crows as other favorite bands of smart people. Meanwhile, Lil Wayne, Beyoncé, The Used, and gospel music comes in at the lower end of the spectrum — or, as Griffith puts it, is music for dumb people. Among other interesting revelations from the Griffith’s chart: Smart people prefer John Mayer over Pink Floyd; rock titans like Tool, System of a Down, and Pearl Jam fall right in the middle — so, music for average people?; and people still listen to Switchfoot.

What Women Want [Pornhub Insights]

Well, apparently they want to watch a bunch of gay sex. Pornhub’s Lesbian category is the leading favorite among the ladies, with Gay (male) following close at second place. The Gay category only falls into 7th place for men in terms of top viewed categories so it’s noteworthy here that overall, this category ranks higher with the sex opposite to that which this type of content is intended for…Here again, ‘lesbian’ emerges as the most searched term by women, in comparison to ‘teen’ for men. The ladies are also much more into multi-partner scenarios with terms ‘threesome’ coming in hot at number 2 and ‘gangbang’ in at 4th place. Chocolate cravings are also strong on the female side with terms ‘ebony,’ ‘big black cock,’ ‘black’ and ‘ebony lesbians’ all ranking in the top 25 most searched. When we look at the terms that women are more likely to search for than men, the results are simply Sapphic. For instance, ‘eating pussy’ is over 900% more likely to be searched by a woman than a man, as are terms like ‘pussy licking,’ ‘tribbing,’ ‘lesbian scissoring’ and ‘ebony lesbians’ which on average are over 600% more searched for by the ladies. We’ve covered what both genders like to look at on Pornhub, so let’s shift it over to who. Reality television appears to be a theme over on the women’s side, with small-screen stars Kim Kardashian (nsfw), Mimi Faust (nsfw) and Farrah Abraham (nsfw) all showing up within the top 5.

Area Man Only One With Problems [The Onion]

According to people familiar with Belson’s personal trials, in just the past week the problems he—and he alone—has faced include having to drag himself out of bed for work even though he hadn’t slept all that well, feeling trapped in a tedious and unchallenging job, and enduring a sense of loneliness while watching television by himself in his apartment—all awful experiences that Belson’s acquaintances said they struggled to even fathom.

The Truth About the Wars [Lt. General Daniel Bolger U.S. Army (Retired) via The New York Times]

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that.

Woman Running for President Shows Tunisia’s Arab Spring Progress [Jihen Laghmari and Caroline Alexander on Bloomberg News] (11/12/14)

In a life spanning colonial rule, war, autocracy and revolution, Tunis resident Halima never saw a reason to vote. A chance meeting in a souk earlier this month gave her one. She was introduced to Kalthoum Kannou, who has three children, a long marriage to a doctor, a 25-year career as a judge and an ambition to be the first female president of Tunisia.

Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize [Sheila Dewan on New York Times] (11/9/14)

Much of the nuts-and-bolts how-to of civil forfeiture is passed on in continuing education seminars for local prosecutors and law enforcement officials, some of which have been captured on video. The Institute for Justice, which brought the videos to the attention of The Times, says they show how cynical the practice has become and how profit motives can outweigh public safety. In the sessions, officials share tips on maximizing profits, defeating the objections of so-called “innocent owners” who were not present when the suspected offense occurred, and keeping the proceeds in the hands of law enforcement and out of general fund budgets. The Times reviewed three sessions, one in Santa Fe, N.M., that took place in September, one in New Jersey that was undated, and one in Georgia in September that was not videotaped…Sean D. McMurtry, the chief of the forfeiture unit in the Mercer County, N.J., prosecutor’s office, said forfeiture contributes to only a small percentage of local budgets but it is a good deterrent and works especially well against repeat offenders, such as domestic violence perpetrators who repeatedly violate a restraining order. “We’re very proud of our forfeiture operation,” he said in an interview. But in the video, Mr. McMurtry made it clear that forfeitures were highly contingent on the needs of law enforcement. In New Jersey, the police and prosecutors are allowed to use cars, cash and other seized goods; the rest must be sold at auction. Cellphones and jewelry, Mr. McMurtry said, are not worth the bother. Flat screen televisions, however, “are very popular with the police departments,” he said.

Businesses cash in as women chase bigger butts [Joseph Pisani on The Associated Press] (11/11/14)

As a result of the pop culture moment the butt is having, sales for Booty Pop, which hawks $22 foam padded panties on its website, are up 47 percent in the last six months from the same period a year earlier. The company, which declined to give sales figures, has sold out of certain styles and colors this year, including its Pink Cotton Candy Boy Shorts…To be sure, the desire for big butts isn’t new. Large booties long have been preferable in Latino and black communities, says Dr. Dionne Stephens, an associate psychology professor at Florida International University who has researched sexuality in popular culture. And this is not the first time big butts have been in songs. (Think: “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot in the 1990s.) But recently, the desire for a bigger bottom became more mainstream, in large part due to pop culture influences. Mainstream celebrities like Lopez and Minaj accepting their ample assets on camera have given the butt cachet.

Few Signs of Construction at Yujiapu, China’s Manhattan Replica [Ian Williams on NBC News] (11/10/14)

China’s $50-billion knock-off of the Big Apple sits on a river bend — much like its namesake — near the port city of Tianjin, some 120 miles from Beijing. Complete with its own Rockefeller Center and Twin Towers, it’s been billed as the world’s largest financial center in the making. But this Manhattan still has a long way to go. A recent visit shows that construction that began in 2008 on the back of a massive credit boom unleashed in China after the global financial crisis appears to have ground to a halt. While the stunted version of “Rockefeller Center” and its Twin Towers appeared to be complete — both were empty and fenced off…Yujiapu was scheduled for completion in 2019, offering 164 million square feet of office space over an area larger than Manhattan’s financial district in a bid to stimulate development of vast residential districts nearby. Mock-ups of the bright and bustling metropolis envisioned by developers that dot roadside billboards stand in stark contrast to the lifeless cranes beyond, which tell the tale of a building frenzy quickly turning into a bust.

Deadly, Dionysian Beirut: The Islamists ‘Would Kill Us for Sure,’ Says Edible-Panties Purveyor [Rodney Jefferson and Donna Abu-Nasr on Bloomberg News] (11/11/14)

Beirut has been no stranger to potent cocktails over the years, and Ayman Zayour is on a mission to put his city on the map for the right reasons. The 22-year-old bartender is perfecting his “Smooth Criminal,” a shaken-up mix of white rum with butter, egg white and various other alcoholic ingredients. The creation made the national final, and Zayour hopes he can progress to the Bacardi Legacy global competition in Sydney next year. The contrast between Zayour’s world and what’s happening on his doorstep couldn’t be greater as Islamist militants trying to impose extremist laws fight the Lebanese army to the north.

Why Classic Rock Isn’t What It Used To Be [Walt Hickey on FiveThirtyEight] (7/7/14)

The 10-year period from 1973 to 1982 accounts for a whopping 57 percent of all song plays in the set. Besides a small trickle of music from 1995 onward — a trickle to which the Green Day song that inspired this article belongs — the last year to make an actual dent in the listings is 1991. That’s largely due to releases by Nirvana, Metallica and U2, the groups that make up the last wave of what is currently considered classic rock. But clearly it’s not just when a song was released that makes it classic rock. Popularity matters, as does as a band’s longevity, its sound and a bunch of other factors.

High School Soccer Stars Dreaming of Europe Show Long Road Ahead for U.S. [Mason Levinson on Bloomberg News] (11/5/14)

The difference in popularity between U.S. soccer and European football is nowhere more evident than at YSC Academy near Philadelphia, the only high school dedicated to developing American players…YSC opened in 2013 and was founded by Rich Graham, a managing principal at private equity firm Striker Partners and a minority owner of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. The Wayne, Pennsylvania, school, which is affiliated with the team, has 64 students in grades eight through 12. Most play for the Union’s development teams; each one lives and breathes soccer, training twice daily and tailoring his education to help advance in the game.

Genes Explain Why Your Cat Doesn’t Care if You Live or Die [Megan Scudellari on Bloomberg News] (11/11/14)

The first close look at the genetic code of a domestic cat suggests that food rewards from people brought man and feline together, based on genome variations associated with memory and reward behaviors. The study also identified how cats evolved to lead solitary, meat-eating lives, and finds that, perhaps unsurprisingly, cats aren’t quite as domesticated as dogs. The domestic cat genome shows a relatively small number of changed genetic regions compared to domesticated dogs, said Wesley Warren of the Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, who led the study…Cat domestication began about 9,000 years ago, an estimate based on the remains of a cat laid carefully next to those of a human at an ancient Cyprus burial site, though most of the 30 to 40 cat breeds today originated just 150 years ago, previous research has found…In addition, by comparing cat and dog genomes, the researchers found a unique evolutionary trade-off between the two groups: While dogs evolved an unsurpassed sense of smell, cats traded in those smell receptor genes for genes that enhanced their ability to sense pheromones, odorless substances that enable animals of the same species to communicate, such as to find a mate. That tradeoff makes sense, says Warren, as wild dogs ran in packs and so had less need to sense mates and more need to sniff out food. Solitary cats, on the other hand, needed the enhanced pheromone-sensing ability to find mates and detect competing cats.

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change. [Jordan Michael Smith on The Boston Globe] (10/19/14)

But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons. Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried…Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops…Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy. The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”

Churches Wrecked, Men Hide in Trees in Nigeria Caliphate [Michael Olukayode and Mustapha Muhammad on Bloomberg News] (11/17/14)

In areas of Nigeria where the Islamist group Boko Haram is trying to establish its self-styled caliphate, some Christian men hide in woodlands and ditches to avoid militant patrols, witnesses said…After five years of fighting to establish Shariah, or Islamic law, in Africa’s biggest oil producer, Boko Haram has started setting up an administration in parts of the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. With at least 20 local government areas under its control, the militants tell residents that they, not the government, can protect them…Joshua Wariya, a 60-year-old resident who fled to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, from the militant-held town of Gwoza, said hundreds of people are still trapped in surrounding hills with no food. Women who used to venture out to search for food no longer dare because they’re now being killed if they can’t recite parts of the Koran, he said on Nov. 7 at a displaced people’s camp in Maiduguri…When Jaafaru Kabiru tried to sneak into the northeastern Nigerian town of Mubi to evacuate his parents, two militants caught him at the edge of town and asked where he was going. When he said he was going to the stay with his parents in Mubi, “they replied it is no longer Mubi but Madinatul-Islam, ‘the City of Islam,’” Kabiru, a 19-year-old trader based in Yola, said in an interview. They let him proceed on his motorized tricycle after he was able to recite Muslim prayers at gunpoint.

How Much State Prison Populations Are Projected to Grow [Michael Maciag on Governing Magazine] (11/18/14)

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project published new state prison population projections Tuesday, providing projections of how numbers of inmates could change over the next four years. A dozen of the 34 states reporting data expect their prison populations to grow more than 5 percent. The number of inmates housed in Iowa state correctional facilities is slated to climb 16 percent by 2018 — the largest increase of any state. Wyoming (14 percent) and Alaska (11 percent) also reported larger projected growth. Overall, the total prison population in states reporting data is expected to swell 3 percent over the next four years. If projections hold true, that means the state imprisonment rate should remain about unchanged when adjusted for population growth. At least six states expect their prison populations to shrink — albeit not by much — in the coming years.

Kurds Find Unity in Fighting Islamic State. And in Beer [Donna Abu-Nasr on Bloomberg News] (11/20/14)

Herdi Kader and Cesur Nujen have roots in rival parts of Kurdistan, yet their futures are united. Sons of Kurdish immigrants to Sweden, the two came together in a bid to persuade the world to associate their people with their beer, Ava Zer, Kurdish for “gold water,” rather than the violent conflict with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “I want people to drink our beer and say, ‘Wow, Kurds, they know how to make beer,’” Kader said by telephone from Stockholm. “It’s good for the Kurdish people because what’s happening now is not very good for them.” It may be just a business venture thousands of miles away, but Kader, 31, and Nujen, 33, are a rare collaboration among Kurds not on the battlefield. As the fractious people scattered across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran puts power struggles aside to fight extremist militants, uniting the world’s largest stateless group remains elusive.

Crooks Blow Up ATMs in Crimes Leaving Chileans Stuck in Line [Eduardo Thomson on Bloomberg] (11/18/14)

Chilean thieves have a new way of stealing cash from ATMs: they blow them up. The method is simple. Use a hose to inject propane into the machine while being careful to seal all cracks and vents with duct tape, then light the fuel with a spark. The top of the machine explodes, leaving the cash tray almost intact…The pyrotechnics have contributed to a 62 percent jump in automated teller machine robberies through September, according to an e-mailed statement from Chilean police. A 13 percent drop in the number of ATMs in the first nine months of the year following 375 attacks has caused long lines to form at the 7,877 remaining dispensers, making withdrawals a test of endurance. The number of machines peaked at 9,313 in March 2013.  Chile, the wealthiest nation in Latin America, is the only major economy in the region where the number of cash machines is falling, according to London-based Retail Banking Research. Chile now has fewer of them per customer than South American neighbors such as Brazil and Argentina. To make being cash-needy even more miserable, the time that the machines are empty reached a record 17 percent in September, the highest among the 34 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. On Nov. 3, thieves blew up an ATM in downtown Santiago and escaped with the cash after throwing “miguelitos” — twisted nails — on the street behind their getaway car.

Mali Nurse Endures Neighbors’ Stoning to Battle Ebola [Francois Rihouay on Bloomberg] (11/19/14)

“Rita has Ebola!” her neighbors chanted as they gathered at her front door after they learned that two patients at the clinic where she worked in the Malian capital, Bamako, died of the disease. “The neighbors and some kids came after me and threw stones and handfuls of sand,” Rita, who asked that her last name not be used, said in an interview. While Rita, 38, never was in contact with either patient stricken down by the virus at Bamako’s Pasteur Clinic, she hid in her house for two days before an ambulance came to her rescue, she said.

Murder She Wrote is murder capital of TV detective world [The Telegraph] (8/21/12)

The makers of “Murder, She Wrote” told the New York Times that Cabot Cove has a population of 3,500. The idyllic village in the state of Maine is the home of Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury. And the number of suspicious deaths on her patch gives Cabot Cove a staggering murder rate of 1,490 per million. That makes it 50 times more deady than Honduras – the real-life murder capital of the world.

The Bizarre Case of the Woman Who Saw Dragons Everywhere [The Lancet via io9]

Recently, a group of neuroscientists examined a woman who complained of an unusual ailment. The people around her kept turning into dragons. The fifty-something woman said the problem had been plaguing her for most of her life, and eventually prevented her from holding a job. When people turned into dragons, she reported, their faces turned “black, grew long, pointy ears and a protruding snout, and displayed a reptiloid skin and huge eyes in bright yellow, green, blue, or red.”

Curiously Strong Remains:


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Roundup – Inconceivable!

Best of the Best:

Practice Does Not Make Perfect [David Z. Hambrick, Fernanda Ferreira, and John M. Henderson on Slate] (9/28/14)

The experts-are-made view has dominated the discussion in recent decades. In a pivotal 1993 article published in Psychological Review—psychology’s most prestigious journal—the Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues proposed that performance differences across people in domains such as music and chess largely reflect differences in the amount of time people have spent engaging in “deliberate practice,” or training exercises specifically designed to improve performance. To test this idea, Ericsson and colleagues recruited violinists from an elite Berlin music academy and asked them to estimate the amount of time per week they had devoted to deliberate practice for each year of their musical careers. The major finding of the study was that the most accomplished musicians had accumulated the most hours of deliberate practice. For example, the average for elite violinists was about 10,000 hours, compared with only about 5,000 hours for the least accomplished group. In a second study, the difference for pianists was even greater—an average of more than 10,000 hours for experts compared with only about 2,000 hours for amateurs. Based on these findings, Ericsson and colleagues argued that prolonged effort, not innate talent, explained differences between experts and novices. These findings filtered their way into pop culture. They were the inspiration for what Malcolm Gladwell termed the “10,000 Hour Rule” in his book Outliers, which in turn was the inspiration for the song “Ten Thousand Hours” by the hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the opening track on their Grammy-award winning album The Heist. However, recent research has demonstrated that deliberate practice, while undeniably important, is only one piece of the expertise puzzle—and not necessarily the biggest piece. In the first study to convincingly make this point, the cognitive psychologists Fernand Gobet and Guillermo Campitelli found that chess players differed greatly in the amount of deliberate practice they needed to reach a given skill level in chess. For example, the number of hours of deliberate practice to first reach “master” status (a very high level of skill) ranged from 728 hours to 16,120 hours. This means that one player needed 22 times more deliberate practice than another player to become a master. A recent meta-analysis by Case Western Reserve University psychologist Brooke Macnamara and her colleagues (including the first author of this article for Slate) came to the same conclusion. We searched through more than 9,000 potentially relevant publications and ultimately identified 88 studies that collected measures of activities interpretable as deliberate practice and reported their relationships to corresponding measures of skill. (Analyzing a set of studies can reveal an average correlation between two variables that is statistically more precise than the result of any individual study.) With very few exceptions, deliberate practice correlated positively with skill. In other words, people who reported practicing a lot tended to perform better than those who reported practicing less. But the correlations were far from perfect: Deliberate practice left more of the variation in skill unexplained than it explained.

Methods: Falsification tests [The Incidental Economist] (10/1/14)

[A]nalyses in large data sets are not necessarily correct simply because they are larger. Control groups might not eliminate potential confounders, or many varying definitions of exposure to the agent may be tested (alternative thresholds for dose or duration of a drug)—a form of multiple- hypothesis testing. Just as small, true signals can be identified by these analyses, so too can small, erroneous associations…[F]alsification analysis is not a perfect tool for validating the associations in observational studies, nor is it intended to be. The absence of implausible falsification hypotheses does not imply that the primary association of interest is causal, nor does their presence guarantee that real relations do not exist. However, when many false relationships are present, caution is warranted in the interpretation of study findings.

Forget Ebola. This is the viral epidemic that should really terrify Americans [Gweyn Guilford on Quartz] (10/1/14)

Yes, measles—the same virus that was eliminated from the US in 2000. Spread through the air, measles—which causes respiratory system infections, rash, and in some cases, encephalitis—is many, many times more contagious than Ebola. The US was able to eliminate native strains of the measles virus thanks to several nationwide childhood vaccination campaigns. But the disease still strikes Americans because, like the unfortunate Dallas patient, people bring viral strains into the US all the time. And those foreign strains can infect people who are unvaccinated. Typically, that’s meant those who are too young for the vaccination or those with an allergy or another illness that has compromised their immune system. But in the three biggest outbreaks in 2014, the virus was transmitted when someone introduced a measles strain from outside the US into communities where pockets of people had refused vaccination because of philosophical, religious, or personal beliefs, according to the CDC. Of the 195 US residents who contracted measles and were unvaccinated as of May 23, 85% had declined immunization on those grounds, versus 68% from 2004 to 2008.

Neuroscientist Carl Hart: Everything you think you know about drugs and addiction is wrong [April M. Short on Alternet via Raw Story] (9/24/14)

Hart said growing up as he did, he came to believe the prevailing assertion that crack cocaine and other drugs were the villains behind crime and poverty. If he could only solve the addiction problem, he thought, he’d be tackling the root of the problem. As Hart came to learn, that is not the reality. Poverty and crime were around long before crack and other drugs appeared on the scene, and the forces at play that keep poor communities poor are insidious and systemic…One of the biggest factors is the war on drugs and its racist law enforcment policies, which target impoverished, black populations despite the fact that whites and blacks use drugs at similar rates…Hart said he first began questioning his thinking when he discovered that drugs like crack and meth are not nearly as addictive as he had been told. He points out in his talk that 80 to 90 percent of people who use illegal drugs are not addicted…Hart’s work has revealed some striking truths about drug use and addiction. His research on both crack and meth users have shown that even drug users with serious addictions tend to make surprisingly rational decisions. When given the choice between drugs and money—even a small amount of money such as $5—they will choose the money over the drugs at least half the time. When the sum offered is higher, like $20 to $50, they will almost always choose the money. As Hart told AlterNet last June, his studies have shown that the pharmacological effects of drugs rarely lead to crime, “but the public conflates these issues regardless.”

Schoolgirl jihadis: the female Islamists leaving home to join Isis fighters [ Harriet Sherwood, Sandra Laville, Kim Willsher in Paris, Ben Knight in Berlin, Maddy French in Vienna and Lauren Gambino in New York on The Guardian] (9/29/14)

Girls as young as 14 or 15 are travelling mainly to Syria to marry jihadis, bear their children and join communities of fighters, with a small number taking up arms. Many are recruited via social media. Women and girls appear to make up about 10% of those leaving Europe, North America and Australia to link up with jihadi groups, including Islamic State (Isis). France has the highest number of female jihadi recruits, with 63 in the region – about 25% of the total – and at least another 60 believed to be considering the move.

Subway Stabbing Victim Can’t Sue NYPD For Failing To Save Him [Rebecca Fishbein on The Gothamist] (7/26/14)

Gelman stabbed Joseph Lozito in the face, neck, hands and head on an uptown 3 train in February 2011, after fatally stabbing four people and injuring three others in a 28-hour period. Lozito, a father of two and an avid martial arts fan, was able to tackle Gelman and hold him down, and Gelman was eventually arrested by the transit officers. Lozito sued the city, arguing that the police officers had locked themselves in the conductor’s car and failed to come to his aid in time. The city, meanwhile, claimed that the NYPD had no “special duty” to intervene at the time, and that they were in the motorman’s car because they believed Gelman had a gun. And Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan has sided with the city, noting that there was no evidence the cops were aware Lozito was in danger at the time.

Rating attractiveness: study finds consensus among men, not women [Dustin Wood on Wake Forest University] (6/25/09)

More than 4,000 participants in the study rated photographs of men and women (ages 18-25) for attractiveness on a 10-point scale ranging from “not at all” to “very.”   In exchange for their participation, raters were told what characteristics they found attractive compared with the average person.   The raters ranged in age from 18 to more than 70. Before the participants judged the photographs for attractiveness, the members of the research team rated the images for how seductive, confident, thin, sensitive, stylish, curvaceous (women), muscular (men), traditional, masculine/feminine, classy, well-groomed, or upbeat the people looked. Breaking out these factors helped the researchers figure out what common characteristics appealed most to women and men Men’s judgments of women’s attractiveness were based primarily around physical features and they rated highly those who looked thin and seductive.  Most of the men in the study also rated photographs of women who looked confident as more attractive. As a group, the women rating men showed some preference for thin, muscular subjects, but disagreed on how attractive many men in the study were.   Some women gave high attractiveness ratings to the men other women said were not attractive at all…women may encounter less competition from other women for the men they find attractive, he says.  Men may need to invest more time and energy in attracting and then guarding their mates from other potential suitors, given that the mates they judge attractive are likely to be found attractive by many other men. Wood says the study results have implications for eating disorders and how expectations regarding attractiveness affect behavior. “The study helps explain why women experience stronger norms than men to obtain or maintain certain physical characteristics,” he says…

MIMAL [Wikipedia]

MIMAL is a geographical acronym referring to five states in the United States: Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The term is used as reference to the fictional person of Mimal the Elf or Chef, the area composed of the five states found on the west bank of the Mississippi River.

14 Things Women Think When They’re Trying to Orgasm [Lane Moore on Cosmopolitan] (9/23/14)

5. “I kinda want him to leave.” Not forever but even if he went to the bathroom or something, I could just get myself off and I wouldn’t have to keep sitting through this. Or he could leave and I could go watch New Girl. I think new episodes started this week. Oh and pie. I could also eat pie.

A Record for Ireland’s Steady Robbie Keane [Gabrielle Marcotti on The Wall Street Journal] (10/12/14)

On Saturday, Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane scored a hat-trick against Gibraltar. In so doing, he became the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of European Championship qualifying…Soccer isn’t exactly known for meticulous record-keeping, but by most generally accepted accounts his 65 international goals put him in 14th place on the all-time list. Some of the names ranked ahead of him—Pele (77 goals), Ferenc Puskás (84), Gerd Müller (68)—are soccer immortals. Others—Thailand’s Kiatisuk Senamuang (70), Trinidad’s Stern John (70), and Kuwait’s Bashar Abdullah (75)—somewhat less so. And still others, such as Iran’s Ali Daei, the all-time leader with a seemingly unassailable 109, were great players for regional powers that regularly steamrolled much weaker opposition. Sift through Daei’s numbers game by game and the prevalence of blowouts is evident: five goals against Sri Lanka, four each against Laos, Nepal and Guam (in a 19-0 win), three against the Maldives. The massive disparity in the standard of opposition across the globe is what makes these records a touch dubious. It’s a bit like the NCAA Division I basketball all-time scoring list. In the top 20, you’ll find Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson and Pete Maravich sharing space with Keydren Clark, Alfredrick Hughes and Harry Kelly —prolific scorers who feasted on opposition lower down the food chain. The curious thing about Keane is that, unlike most of the others on the list, he didn’t play for a dominant national side. The Republic of Ireland have only qualified for two of eight major tournaments during his international career.

A Young Striker’s Death Haunts American Soccer [David Marino-Nachison and Leos Rousek on The Wall Street Journal] (10/9/14)

After Miro’s death, America ended its four-decade absence from the World Cup and became a nation of soccer-loving youth. But it has yet to produce a world-class soccer player, and there are those who believe that Miro might have accelerated America’s rise in soccer. One of the youngest Americans ever to play in a World Cup qualifier, he scored in his debut.

Triads See Underworld Business Hurt by Hong Kong Protests [David Tweed and Dominic Lau on Bloomberg] (10/9/14)

As thousands of pro-democracy protesters thronged Hong Kong’s major retail and business districts, blocking roads and forcing shops to close, it wasn’t just legal establishments feeling the pain. Business for Hong Kong’s gangsters fell “about 40 percent” in the days after the occupation started on Sept. 28, according to a man who gave his name only as Ah Lik and said he was a district head of the 14K, one of Hong Kong’s three largest organized crime outfits, known as triads. He referred to the takings of various triad-related rackets across the city and declined to give further details.

Red or Blue, Politics Doesn’t Predict Where Women Win [Louis Jacobson on Governing Magazine] (10/9/14)

Using raw data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, we analyzed which states have had women as governors and found some interesting patterns: Exactly half of the 50 states have had a woman governor at some point in history.  About 60 percent of the women who have served as governors have been Democrats, and 40 percent have been Republicans. It’s not as if all the blue states have had women governors and all the red states haven’t. Among blue states — that is, the most reliably Democratic states in recent presidential elections — nine have had a woman governor and six haven’t. Among red states, 13 have had a woman governor and 10 haven’t. Those are pretty similar ratios. (We’ve excluded the competitive “purple” states from our calculations.)  Of the 25 states that have had a woman governor, slightly over half are red states…Today’s blue states are about as likely to elect a Republican woman as a Democratic woman…The mix of states that have never had a woman governor is equally diverse. While many of these states are red, a bunch of solidly blue states have never had a woman governor, including California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island. How to interpret this data? Many of the experts we checked with said it’s hard to draw any conclusions. It’s almost impossible to discern a pattern for which states have a history of electing women governors and which states don’t.

Taken [Sarah Stillman on The New Yorker] (8/12/13)

In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence. One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.

Bogus Congressman Said to Get Backstage at Obama Event [Jonathan Allen on Bloomberg] (10/2/14)

An unidentified man posing as a member of Congress made it into a secure area backstage at President Barack Obama’s appearance at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards dinner in Washington Sept. 27, according to a White House official.

South Beats North in All-Korea Soccer Final as Kim Unseen [Sam Kim on Bloomberg] (10/2/14)

South Korea’s soccer team added to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “discomfort,” beating their rivals 1-0 in the Asian Games final late yesterday. The game — won by the South Koreans with a goal in the second period of extra time — was the first time the countries had met in the final of the competition since 1978. That game ended in a 0-0 draw and both teams shared the gold medal. Some North and South Korean players kneeled with their heads buried in the field after the referee blew the final whistle to end the 120-minute-long match. North Korean coach Yun Jung Su protested the goal while some of his players wept alongside South Koreans jumping up and down in a circle, live footage from South Korean broadcaster KBS showed.

Where Is North Korea’s 31-Year-Old Leader? [Dexter Roberts on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/7/14)

The Bulletproof Classroom: Armored Whiteboards Defend Against School Shootings [John Cloud on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/2/14)

Tunis came up with the idea of lining the handheld, portable whiteboards commonly used in schools with panels made from Dyneema, a polyethylene fiber strong enough to stop a shotgun blast from a foot away and light enough to wear all day. Emily Heinauer, director of special projects for Hardwire, says the company has sold its 20-by-18-inch whiteboards in all 50 states—some to school districts and some to individual teachers who find them online. In addition to the bulletproof whiteboards, Tunis makes a 10-by-13-inch clipboard weighing 1.3 pounds intended for kids to use if a gunman comes into the room. Hardwire recently sold 61 clipboards, which retail for $129, at half price to Worcester County, Md., where the company is based. Many of the first orders came from nearby clients—the University of Maryland Eastern Shore spent $60,000 on whiteboards last year. And after the Today show featured them on the 12th anniversary of Sept. 11, orders began pouring in from all over the country.

Moon’s magnetic heart still a mystery [Stuart Gary on ABC Science] (12/5/14)

Billions of years ago the Moon had a magnetic field much stronger than the Earth does now, according to a new review of scientific data. Today, the Moon has no global magnetic field. The review, published in the journal Science, answers some long standing questions about the Moon’s origins and its internal structure, but it also raises new questions about how planetary magnetism works.

Monkeys aren’t fooled by luxury prices [Bianca Nogrady on ABC Science] (12/3/14)

The capuchin monkeys in the study had been previously trained in a ‘token market’, so they knew how to use tokens to purchase flavoured ice blocks from the experimenter. They also knew that some flavours were more expensive than others, in that a single token would buy them less of one particular flavour than of another flavour. After this training, the researchers placed the monkeys in the situation where the flavoured ice blocks were freely available, without any need for tokens, and the monkeys were allowed to choose whichever flavours they liked. “Learning which kind of ice was more expensive in the price learning phase did not seem to affect monkeys’ preferences in the preference assessment phase,” the authors wrote. “This result suggests that learning that a food is expensive doesn’t seem to make monkeys like it more.” Santos says this is in direct contrast to human behaviour…”It means that we’re more irrational than monkeys, and it also raises this question of where these price effects come from.” One theory is that we use our understanding of supply and demand to use price as a proxy indicator of quality. “We know if a wine was really awful, no one would buy it if it cost a ton of money, and so we get a sense that maybe there is this connection between price and value,” Santos says. Another possibility is that we are simply following the herd, using price as an indicator of popularity.

Scarecrows outnumber people in dying Japan town [Elaine Kurtenbach on The Associated Press] (12/8/14)

This village deep in the rugged mountains of southern Japan once was home to hundreds of families. Now, only 35 people remain, outnumbered three-to-one by scarecrows that Tsukimi Ayano crafted to help fill the days and replace neighbors who died or moved away. At 65, Ayano is one of the younger residents of Nagoro. She moved back from Osaka to look after her 85-year-old father after decades away. “They bring back memories,” Ayano said of the life-sized dolls crowded into corners of her farmhouse home, perched on fences and trees, huddled side-by-side at a produce stall, the bus stop, anywhere a living person might stop to take a rest. “That old lady used to come and chat and drink tea. That old man used to love to drink sake and tell stories. It reminds me of the old times, when they were still alive and well,” she said…When she returned to her hometown 13 years ago, Ayano tried farming. Thinking her radish seeds may have been eaten by crows, she decided to make some scarecrows. By now there are more 100 scattered around Nagoro and other towns in Shikoku.

Why the CIA Won’t Be Punished for Torture [Noah Feldman, professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University, via Bloomberg Views] (12/9/14)

In short, then, the memos worked: The Department of Justice gave the CIA a free pass to torture without being punished. The legal analysis may have been wrong or morally monstrous, and the CIA appears to have lied to the Department of Justice. But even discounting the political factors that make it unlikely a president would prosecute the CIA, the legal ground for proceeding would be very rocky. Serious crimes were committed. They’re going to go unpunished.

Curiously Strong Remains:



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


Roundup – Bounty Tracker

Best of the Best:

A Vaccine Mystery Hits Older Americans [Virginia Postrel via Bloomberg Views]

More than three-quarters of Americans believe vaccines for such diseases as measles, mumps, and whooping cough should be mandatory for children, a new Harris poll finds. The margin increases with age, with 88 percent of respondents over 69 years old and 83 percent of those 50 to 68 voicing support. People who remember the scourge of polio and who themselves may have suffered through such “childhood diseases” as mumps are, not surprisingly, more likely to want vaccines required for kids. But when it comes to their own health, they aren’t as enthusiastic about a shot of prevention. It’s been eight years since the Food and Drug Administration approved Merck’s Zostavax shingles vaccine for people over 60. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices officially recommended it for the same group. Yet only about 20 percent of Americans over 60 have had the vaccine. (In 2011 the FDA also approved it for people over 50, but without a CDC recommendation insurers rarely cover it.)

States Making Long-Term Contraception More Accessible [Chris Kardish on Governing Magazine]

A five-year study launched in 2007 by St. Louis’ Washington University has bolstered public health arguments in favor of LARC. More than 9,000 women ages 14 through 45 were educated on different contraception options and given a choice of method; 75 percent selected a form of LARC. Across all age categories, women who chose LARC had significantly lower pregnancy rates — 20 times less than those using a pill, ring or patch. Those findings and a growing awareness of the costs of unintended pregnancies first spurred a few states in recent years to evaluate Medicaid payment policies, which typically don’t pay doctors to insert LARC immediately after a woman gives birth. Studies show women who don’t get LARC  immediately after delivering a baby are less likely to come back for it later and far more likely to get pregnant in the next year. So more states — including Illinois, New York and Texas most recently — are trying to make Medicaid changes and help doctors deal with LARC’s high upfront costs of $400 to $1,000.  That price is based both on the long-term nature of the contraception, its high rates of effectiveness and the determination of manufacturers that Americans can afford to pay for it. The price also reflects the high public costs of unintended pregnancy, which totaled $12.5 billion in 2008, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on reproductive health. About 50 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. The rate is even higher among teenagers, minorities and women with lower levels of education and income. Medicaid or other public health programs cover nearly two out of three unplanned pregnancies (about 1.1 million births). From a health standpoint, unplanned pregnancies are associated with delayed prenatal care, premature birth and other complications.

In D.C., Most Gunshots Happen Near Schools [J.B. Wogan on Governing Magazine]

The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, looked at gunfire within 1,000 feet of public schools and public charter schools in Washington, D.C., during school hours in the 2011-2012 school year. The report suggests that government officials should pay attention to guns fired near a school, even if no police report is filed — and tracking homicides or other common metrics from police reports may not be enough. To measure the number of gun shots near schools, researchers used data from ShotSpotter, a technology that detects the sound of gunfire and triangulates the location of each gun shot. Of the 175 schools open during that school year, 116 fell within the technology’s coverage area. The data show 336 gunshots fired during the school year. About 54 percent occurred within 1,000 feet of a school. The report noted that exposure to gunfire was concentrated near a few schools: about 9 percent of the schools experienced 48 percent of all gunfire.

U.S. Economic Confidence Index Stable in August at -16 [Rebecca Riffkin on Gallup]

Despite strong stock market gains, as well as more robust consumer spending and increased job creation, Americans’ economic confidence continues to be flat. While Democrats and upper-income Americans are the most positive about the economy, other Americans lag behind. In recent months, Americans have been a bit more negative about the direction of the economy than they have been about current economic conditions. However, economic confidence as a whole has remained consistent.

Two Is Stronger Than One: Shared Experiences are More Intense [Dr. Gary Lewandowski on The Science of Relationships]

Participants at Yale University tasted chocolate in a room either (a) along with another person tasting their own chocolate, or (b) with another person who looked at a book of paintings. Participants who ate chocolate with a fellow taster thought the chocolate tasted better than those who tasted chocolate alone. To determine others’ influence on unpleasant experiences, a follow-up study used a similar procedure, but had participants taste a highly bitter chocolate. As before, having a fellow taster present intensified the experience, in this case making the chocolate taste worse.

The Truth Behind Online Dating: What Is and Isn’t Real [Dr. Dylan Selterman on The Science of Relationships]

In OKCupid’s study, they found that people were about as interested in partners they thought were highly compatible even if objectively they were not. The odds of a single message turning into a longer conversation were nearly identical for the dissimilar (17% chance) and similar (20% chance) users. In general, I would suggest not taking the matching programs too seriously on any dating website, because these algorithms are not supported by scientific evidence.5 A practical take-home message is that the match percentage you see with potential partners probably doesn’t mean all that much—simply the perception that people are similar is enough to make you feel attracted, regardless of actual similarity. So whether you’re on OKCupid,, eHarmony, JDate, or other sites, don’t assume that a lower match % means you should avoid interacting with a potential partner, especially considering some of the incredibly random (yet perhaps highly entertaining) questions they have people complete (here’s a full list for OKCupid), which are not related to future relationship outcomes. If you like someone’s profile but they have a low match percentage, there’s no reason to hesitate sending them a (respectful) message—go for it!

Bellamy Salute [Wikipedia]

The Bellamy salute is the salute described by Francis Bellamy, Christian socialist minister and author, to accompany the American Pledge of Allegiance, which he had authored. During the period when it was used with the Pledge of Allegiance, it was sometimes known as the “flag salute”. Later, during the 1920s and 1930s, Italian fascists and Nazis adopted a salute which had the same form, and which was derived from the Roman salute. This resulted in controversy over the use of the Bellamy salute in the United States. It was officially replaced by the hand-over-heart salute when Congress amended the Flag Code on December 22, 1942…In his Pulitzer prize winning biography Lindbergh, author A. Scott Berg explains that interventionist propagandists would photograph [Charles] Lindbergh and other isolationists using this salute from an angle that left out the American flag, so it would be indistinguishable from the Hitler salute to observers.

The Legend of Elvis Old Bull [Patrick Sauer on Vice Sports]

The [Elvis] Old Bull vs. [Jonathan] Takes Enemy debate will never be decided. The former had the all-encompassing Johnson game with the odd knuckleball set shot, the latter the ability to score anywhere/anytime with both hands and a sweet stroke a la Bird. The latter went on to have a successful post-high school career at Rocky Mountain College, the former has those Lodge Grass titles. Both men, legends. And even if you were never lucky enough to see them play—and you won’t until someone uploads some dusty VHS footage to YouTube—could you at least agree there has never been two better names in the history of basketball?

The Third Wave [Wikipedia]

The experiment took place at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, during the first week of April 1967. [History teacher Ron] Jones, finding himself unable to explain to his students how the German population could have claimed ignorance of the extermination of the Jewish people, decided to demonstrate it to them instead. Jones started a movement called “The Third Wave” and told his students that the movement aimed to eliminate democracy.

Amid Kale and Quinoa, Pop-Tarts Keep Hanging On [Sarah Nassauer on The Wall Street Journal]

Sales of soda, cereal and frozen food are down. Sales of Pop-Tarts have gone up each year for the past 32.

Obama’s Betrayal of the Constitution [Bruce Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale and a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, via The New York Times]

President Obama’s declaration of war against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris. Mr. Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority. This is because no serious opinion can be written. This became clear when White House officials briefed reporters before Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation on Wednesday evening. They said a war against ISIS was justified by Congress’s authorization of force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that no new approval was needed. But the 2001 authorization for the use of military force does not apply here. That resolution — scaled back from what Mr. Bush initially wanted — extended only to nations and organizations that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.

Number of Unvaccinated Children on the Rise [Paloma Esquivel and Sandra Poindexter on The Los Angeles Times via Governing Magazine]

California parents are deciding against vaccinating their kindergarten-age children at twice the rate they did seven years ago, a fact public health experts said is contributing to the reemergence of measles across the state and may lead to outbreaks of other serious diseases. The percentage of kindergartens in which at least 8 percent of students are not fully vaccinated because of personal beliefs has more than doubled, according to data on file with the state. That threshold is significant because communities must be immunized at a high rate to avoid widespread disease outbreaks…Holly Blumhardt, a mother of three unvaccinated children (two of them attend Orange County public school), said her family believes in staying healthy “from the inside out.” In her view, that means taking vitamin and mineral supplements, steering clear of genetically modified foods, getting regular chiropractic care and maintaining an “active lifestyle.”

The Typo that Destroyed a NASA Rocket [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics]

On July 22, 1962, at 9:20 PM, the Mariner I sat idly on its platform, ready to make history. After investing years of construction, calculation, and funding, NASA had high hopes that its rocket would successfully conduct a flyby survey of Venus, thus shifting the Space Race’s momentum back to the home front. In every way, it was poised to set a space travel precedent. But when the rocket embarked, it was clear there’d be no cause for celebration: less than 5 minutes into flight, Mariner I exploded, setting back the U.S. government $80 million ($630 million in 2014 dollars). The root cause for this disaster? A lone omitted hyphen, somewhere deep in hand-transcribed mathematical code.

100% of power for Vermont city now renewable [Wilson Ring on Associated Press via The Boston Globe]

Vermont’s largest city has a new success to add to its list of socially conscious achievements: 100 percent of its electricity now comes from renewable sources such as wind, water, and biomass.

Where More People Are Living in High-Poverty Areas [Mike Maciag on Governing Magazine]

From 2000 to 2010, the number of people living in poverty areas increased by 56 percent to 77 million; the total population rose just 10 percent. Although fewer Americans (45 million) actually live in poverty, the fact that much more reside in areas of concentrated poverty is significant. Consider education, for example, with high poverty areas typically served by lower-performing schools. Access to health care and healthy foods, too, is often inadequate in these communities.

Extent of Antarctic sea ice reaches record levels, scientists say [Jane Ryan and Sam Ikin on ABC News]

Scientists say the extent of Antarctic sea ice cover is at its highest level since records began…As the area covered in sea ice expands scientists have said the ice on the continent of Antarctica which is not over the ocean continues to deplete. CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, Tony Worby, said the warming atmosphere is leading to greater sea ice coverage by changing wind patterns.

White America’s Drug Problem Is Getting Worse [John Tozzi on Bloomberg Businessweek]

White people have a painkiller problem. According to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, painkiller overdoses accounted for almost 17,000 deaths in 2011. The majority of deaths were among whites, at a rate that’s growing faster than for any other racial group.

Fewer Millennial Moms Show U.S. Birth Rate Drop Lasting [Victoria Stillwell on Bloomberg]

For each year motherhood is delayed, career earnings increase by 9 percent, work experience by 6 percent and average wage rates by 3 percent, according to a 2011 paper by Amalia Miller, an associate professor of economics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Women who have college degrees and jobs in professional and managerial fields see the greatest gains, she found. The children of those women also benefit, Sawhill found. Preventing unexpected births lifts a child’s lifetime income by $52,000, according to Brookings’ study released yesterday. College and high school graduation rates both increase, while the chances of the child becoming a teen parent or being convicted of a crime decline.

Reports of Radio’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated [Priceonomics]

Despite all the disruption and change in the music industry, the size of radio’s audience has remained stable. Since 2004, annual market research has found that radio’s weekly reach is roughly 90% of Americans every year. The 92% of Americans that radio reaches every week listen to an average of two and a half hours of radio per day. And radio’s biggest users are not luddites. Among Millennials, the top listeners are 46% more likely to own a smartphone or tablet than their peers.

U.S. Army Choppers Forced to Land in Polish Fields [Piotr Skolimowski and Dorota Bartyzel on Bloomberg]

Six U.S. army helicopters landed in a rapeseed field in northern Poland, eyewitnesses said, after coming back from military exercises, alarming locals on guard over tensions across the border. Five Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and one tandem-rotor Boeing Co. Chinook chopper touched down near the village of Gruta, 220 kilometers (140 miles) north of Warsaw at about noon yesterday, according to local eyewitnesses. Some residents were at first spooked at the sight of the aircraft, Halina Kowalkowska, the village’s head, said by phone…“Those Americans were really heaven sent,” Kowalkowska said. “Now, when I think about it we could have served them some food, but we were in shock and the boys had to go.”

Don’t Take Your Vitamins [Emily Oster on FiveThirtyEight]

The bottom line is that there is simply very little evidence that these supplements matter. The best-case scenario is if you are an elderly woman who is deficient in vitamin D — then a supplement might help a little. Still, in the 2009-2010 NHANES, about 30 percent of the non-elderly-female population took supplements. And it’s not just vitamins D and E. The Physicians’ Health Study also looked into vitamin C and a one-a-day multivitamin and found the same results: no impacts on the risk of cancer mortality or the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Of course there are exceptions — folic acid is generally a good idea for pregnant women — but the data increasingly suggests that most people simply do not benefit from supplements. To be clear: Serious vitamin deficiencies can cause serious problems (scurvy in the case of vitamin C, rickets in the case of vitamin D, beriberi for vitamin B).1 But if you live in the developed world and eat a normal diet — even a pretty unhealthy one — you will be nowhere near this kind of deficiency.

Growing Number of People Living Solo Can Pose Challenges [Tim Henderson on Stateline]

The proportion of Americans who live alone has grown steadily since the 1920s, increasing from roughly 5 percent then to 27 percent in 2013, according to the latest Current Population Survey. The phenomenon, which is most prevalent in cities, raises a host of health and safety issues for local governments. The growth in the number of men living alone is especially dramatic, rising from less than 6 percent in 1970 to more than 12 percent in 2012, according to a Census Bureau report released last year. Fifteen percent of households are women living alone, but men are more vulnerable to the dangerous side effects of the single life, like social isolation that can lead to health risks and a higher mortality rate.

Liam Neeson Phones It In: Four Action Movies, 42 Minutes of Calls [Mark Glassman on Bloomberg Businessweek]

For about 8 1/2 minutes of Tombstones—or 7 percent of the movie—Neeson’s character is on the phone. He barks orders, cuts deals, and demands proof that a little girl is still alive. At one point he even calls directory assistance. He is on 10 separate calls. Even more remarkable is that Tombstone is a period piece, set mainly in the pre-smartphone year of 1999. Neeson’s character, perhaps annoyed by all the calls, expresses disdain for cellphones; his protégé in the film remarks that he uses a lot of pay phones…Since Taken, the 2008 action movie in which Neeson delivers his beloved “particular-set-of-skills” speech into a phone, it has become commonplace to find the actor holding a handset or a receiver. In Taken and its sequel, Neeson’s character takes part in 17 different phone calls. The longest call in each film occurs during the eponymous taking—kidnappers make off with a loved one while Neeson’s character or his daughter listens in. Neeson’s hero spends 10 percent of both films on a phone.

Hasidic Townhouse Foes Seek to Dissolve Catskills Village [Freeman Klopott on Bloomberg]

A plan to build 396 townhouses for ultra-orthodox Jews in a rural New York village is pitting residents and local officials against a developer who says he’s a victim of an anti-Semitic plot. Opposition to the project is so strong that Bloomingburg, the village in the Catskills, is considering dissolving its local government, which could allow the larger surrounding town to block the development. Voters will decide Sept. 30 whether to fold their municipal government into the Town of Mamakating, whose population is 30 times larger. Shalom Lamm, the developer seeking to build townhouses and amenities meant to draw Hasidim, accused officials in a federal lawsuit of misusing building codes to keep Jews from moving to the area and violating the rights of the plaintiffs under the U.S. Constitution. Town officials say the issue is about preserving Bloomingburg’s rural character, not about religion. Bloomingburg, home to about 420 residents 78 miles (126 kilometers) northwest of Manhattan, sits in the farthest reaches of a culture war raging in New York City’s exurbs as the largest Hasidic community outside of Israel leaves gentrifying Brooklyn in search of lower-cost housing. The fight has increasingly entangled state agencies and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a 56-year-old Democrat facing re-election in November. In June, at Cuomo’s urging, the education department appointed a fiscal monitor for East Ramapo, a school district about 40 miles northwest of Manhattan where critics say the Hasidic-controlled education board has cut programs for public school students while Jewish children study privately. The Environmental Conservation Department is caught in a fight over the Hasidic town of Kiryas Joel’s bid to annex 507 acres from its neighbor.

The For-Profit College That’s Too Big to Fail [Karen Weise on Bloomberg Businessweek]

An Education Department inquiry revealed that Corinthian’s finances were in disastrous disarray. The company, which like other for-profits has seen a decline in enrollment since the end of the recession, had become almost entirely dependent on regular cash infusions from the government’s financial aid programs—$1.4 billion last year, or more than 80 percent of the company’s revenue—to keep the doors open at its 107 campuses. In July the government gave Corinthian until the end of the year to get out of the education business. Usually, when a school closes, the Education Department tries to find other programs to accept the students and the credits they’ve earned. But the size of Corinthian’s student body means it’s hard if not impossible to find enough places at other for-profit or community colleges. That creates a problem for the government, which must forgive loans for students who don’t transfer to other institutions. In the case of a school as large as Corinthian, that provision could cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Now the Education Department is actively trying to shore up Corinthian’s schools even as it shuts the company down. “They thought they were going to be sending a really strong message” by cracking down on Corinthian, says Trace Urdan, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities (WFC). “They didn’t really understand that it may collapse.”

ATF’s Milwaukee sting operation marred by mistakes, failures [John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge on The Milwaukee Sentinel]

They were undercover agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives running a storefront sting aimed at busting criminal operations in the city by purchasing drugs and guns from felons. But the effort to date has not snared any major dealers or taken down a gang. Instead, it resulted in a string of mistakes and failures, including an ATF military-style machine gun landing on the streets of Milwaukee and the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen from its store, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found. When the 10-month operation was shut down after the burglary, agents and Milwaukee police officers who participated in the sting cleared out the store but left behind a sensitive document that listed names, vehicles and phone numbers of undercover agents. And the agency remains locked in a battle with the building’s owner, who says he is owed about $15,000 because of utility bills, holes in the walls, broken doors and damage from an overflowing toilet. The sting resulted in charges being filed against about 30 people, most for low-level drug sales and gun possession counts. But agents had the wrong person in at least three cases. In one, they charged a man who was in prison – as a result of an earlier ATF case – at the time agents said he was selling drugs to them.

NFL Players Are More Law Abiding Than Average Men [Lisa Wade on The Pacific Standard]

USA Today maintains a database of charges, citations, and arrests of National Football League players since 2000 (ones they found out about, in any case). According to their records, 2.53 percent of players are arrested in any given year. This is lower than the national average for men of the same age. And, despite the publicity, this year looks like it will be the least criminal on record.

The War Nerd: Bombs away in the Middle East! But why is Israel so quiet? [Gary Brecher on Pando Daily]

Israel sent a message about how it views the US campaign against [Islamic State] IS without using words at all. On the same day that American forces were attacking IS bases in Syria, Israel shot down a MiG-21 from Assad’s Alawite forces over the Golan Heights. Quite a moment in Middle Eastern military history: While the US was intervening to attack the Sunni jihadis, the IDF underlined its view of the real enemy by knocking down one of Assad’s antique fighters out of the sky. That ancient MiG wasn’t downed because it was a threat to Israel, or because it was over the line. It was downed as a gesture. Bibi and his Likud allies are sulking, because the way they see it, we’re bombing the wrong Syrians. The Israeli elite has always wanted the US to intervene in the Syrian Civil War—but not against the Sunni jihadists, as we’re doing now. They want American planes and drones to obliterate the other side–the Alawites’ Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its Hezbollah allies. Nobody ever seems to mention it, but the supposedly fearsome IS now owns the ground right under Israel’s Golan Heights fortifications, after moving in in June 2014 when the weary SAA, tired of being shelled by the IDF, moved out. So IS has been in place right there on Israel’s border for months now—and there’s been no attack from Israel. Yes, folks, you might actually get the impression that the Israelis—who know a thing or two about threat assessment—just don’t take IS very seriously. In fact, IS is a convenient little irritant, as seen from Jerusalem, a useful way to annoy the real enemy—the Shia/Alawite/Iran bloc.

Record Share of Americans Have Never Married [Wendy Wang and Kim Parker on Pew Social Trends]

After decades of declining marriage rates and changes in family structure, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high. In 2012, one-in-five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data. In 1960, only about one-in-ten adults (9%) in that age range had never been married.1 Men are more likely than women to have never been married (23% vs. 17% in 2012). And this gender gap has widened since 1960, when 10% of men ages 25 and older and 8% of women of the same age had never married.

God’s Lonely Programmer [Jesse Hicks on Motherboard on Vice]

TempleOS is more than an exercise in retro computing, or a hobbyist’s space for programming close to the bare metal. It’s the brainchild—perhaps the life’s work—of 44-year-old Terry Davis, the founder and sole employee of Trivial Solutions. For more than a decade Davis has worked on it; today, TempleOS is 121,176 lines of code, which puts it on par with Photoshop 1.0. (By comparison, Windows 7, a full-fledged modern operating system designed to be everything to everyone, filled with decades of cruft, is ​about 40 million lines.) He’s done this work because God told him to. ​According to the TempleOS charter, it is “God’s official temple. Just like Solomon’s temple, this is a community focal point where offerings are made and God’s oracle is consulted.” God also told Davis that 640×480, 16-color graphics “is a covenant like circumcision,” making it easier for children to make drawings for God.

Curiously Strong Remains:


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



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