Archive for the 'Roundup' Category


Roundup – David Lynch’s Goofy Movie

Best of the Best:

Internet Provider Gagged for Decade Reveals What FBI Wanted Without Warrant [Steven Nelson on U.S. News and World Report] (11/30/15) – RW

Merrill, owner of now-defunct Calyx Internet Access, provided Internet service to about 200 customers when he received the order in February 2004. He refused to turn over the records of the targeted customer and went to court with American Civil Liberties Union representation. Merrill won the right to identify himself in 2010, but could not say what the ultimately withdrawn letter said. In August, a federal judge ordered the associated gag order lifted, with a 90-day pause to allow the Justice Department time to appeal, which it chose not to do. Victory in hand, Merrill said Monday that the NSL he received demanded his customer’s full Internet browsing history, records of online purchases, a list of Internet Protocol addresses for the target’s contacts and location information. A copy of the document with more technical language was released.

A redcoat solution to government surveillance [Mike Gatto, a lawyer, assemblyman from California’s 43rd District in Los Angeles County, and the chairman of the Assembly’s Consumer Protection and Privacy Committee, via The Los Angeles Times] (9/29/15) – RW

Technical reasoning aside, when the Supreme Court has interpreted the 3rd Amendment, it has emphasized privacy and the constraint of federal powers. In Griswold vs. Connecticut, the court stated the 3rd Amendment evinced the founders’ belief that a person’s home should be free from agents of the state. In Youngstown Sheet & Tube vs. Sawyer, the court mentioned the 3rd Amendment to support limiting executive power, even during crises. In Laird vs. Tatum, the 3rd Amendment was cited to support the notion that the military should have a limited role in civilian affairs. These themes remain relevant in the modern debate. In the only case in which the 3rd Amendment was directly applied (to disallow stationing National Guardsmen in prison guards’ housing during a prison guard strike), a federal appeals court decided that the “property-based privacy interests protected by the Third Amendment … extend to those recognized and permitted by society as founded on lawful … possession with a … right to exclude others.” Well, your computer is your property. You can exclude others from it with a password. So we shouldn’t tolerate a branch of the military establishing itself there either. I’m not alone in seeing the ever-expanding federal government’s military-run surveillance as a modern form of quartering troops in our homes. Several mainstream but inventive constitutional law professors have argued that the 3rd Amendment applies to surveillance. Like me, they see that the ubiquitous incorporeal presence of a military agency in our household systems is as significant to us as the physical presence of redcoats was in the 1700s.

Ex-US Intelligence Chief on Islamic State’s Rise: ‘We Were Too Dumb’ [Matthias Gebauer and Holger Stark on Der Spiegel] (11/29/15) – RW

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US invaded Iraq even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.

Flynn: First we went to Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was based. Then we went into Iraq. Instead of asking ourselves why the phenomenon of terror occurred, we were looking for locations. This is a major lesson we must learn in order not to make the same mistakes again.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Islamic State wouldn’t be where it is now without the fall of Baghdad. Do you regret …

Flynn: … yes, absolutely …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … the Iraq war?

Flynn: It was huge error. As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him. The same is true for Moammar Gadhafi and for Libya, which is now a failed state. The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq. History will not be and should not be kind with that decision.

What I Learned from Four Years Working at McDonalds [Kate Norquay on Medium] (11/28/15) – DaCole

McDonalds is supposed to be a job for people who can’t do anything else. I noticed that majority of entry level jobs didn’t hire people who looked like the people I worked with. At McDonalds there were people with disabilities, overweight people, people who weren’t conventionally attractive, people that couldn’t speak much English, young teenagers, and a lot of racial diversity. These people made up the backbone of the store. They were respected as some of our best workers. Then I would look at a store like Glassons, or Whitcoulls or Starbucks and the majority of the time I would see people that looked like me. White, early twenties, reasonably attractive, slim, English speakers. This was the bias that both me and the people around me were applying to my job. I meet the criteria for a ‘good’ job at a clothing store. People who come from good backgrounds aren’t supposed to end up in McDonalds alongside those who couldn’t do better if they tried. If you’re a white girl in your early 20s you will be ridiculed for working at McDonalds. But I don’t think the same applies for disabled people, or middle-aged Pasifika women or immigrants. Their friends aren’t quietly snickering, ‘when are you going to get a real job?’ Because this is the job we expect them to have.

Study: Some Deepak Chopra Tweets Are Indistinguishable From Bullshit [Matt Novak on Gizmodo] (11/30/15) – R.W.

The paper, titled “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit,” doesn’t pull any punches. But it carefully notes that, “None of this is intended to imply that every statement in Chopra’s tweet history is bullshit.” (Emphasis mine.)…“Ten novel meaningless statements were derived from two websites and used to create a Bullshit Receptivity (BSR) scale,” the authors explain. The researchers asked people to rate the statements on a scale ranging from profound to complete bullshit. Unsurprisingly, the sample tweet from Chopra’s Twitter feed was largely indistinguishable from bullshit. As Dr. Emily Willingham explains in a post over at Forbes, the researchers found that there were a variety of reasons that some people found Chopra’s bullshit to be profound. They looked at the participants’ analytical thinking skills and willingness to accept implausible ideas. Those who found Chopra to be profound tended to be less skeptical of the paranormal and scored lower on cognitive and reasoning ability tests. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Willingham also points out what effect this kind of garbled nonsense has on the real world, especially as it relates to pseudo-science and bullshit “cures” for some diseases.

How a Marvel Comic Hero Became the Icon of the Fight Against ISIS [Rebecca Collard on Time Magazine] (4/13/15)

The stencils of skulls on the vests of Iraqi fighters entering Tikrit last week may look familiar to many Americans. The long fanged, wincing face is that of the Punisher, a Marvel comic character whose mission is to fight evil employing all means necessary…As a poorly-guided vigilante the Punisher is a well-suited icon for the Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militia that have been accused of looting towns, burning homes and murder in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Italian journalist Daniele Raineri documented the popularity of the Punisher image throughout Iraq in a series of tweets last week. “I think they forget the American association and just think, ‘oh, look how cool we are with these death skulls’,” says Tamimi. He points out that Iraqis appropriate “American symbols, despite of course the rampant anti-Americanism particularly with the Shi’ite militias. It’s an interesting discord.” These Iraqi fighters are not the first Middle East militants to appropriate American insignia. Tamimi points to the example of the Iraqi Shiite militia Faylaq al-Wa’ad al-Sadiq, which uses the famous image of American soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II on their logo—despite its association with the U.S. In the case of the Punisher, it was actually U.S. soldiers that first brought him to the battlefield in Iraq. The unit of Chris Kyle, the American Sniper, called themselves the Punishers, labeling their gear with the four-fang skull and painting it on walls of Iraqi homes and buildings to mark their territory.

What no politician wants to admit about gun control [Dylan Matthews on Vox] (12/3/15)

A study by Andrew Leigh of Australian National University and Christine Neill of Wilfrid Laurier University estimated that buying back 3,500 guns per 100,000 people led to a statistically significant drop in firearm suicides — 74 percent, in fact, with no parallel increase in non-firearm suicides. While gun control opponents have tried to rebut those results, those responses have been riddled with methodological flaws, and even some of the study’s critics have conceded that the laws likely cut down on suicides. The results on homicides were a little less clear. Leigh and Neill found that the buyback resulted in a 35 to 50 percent decline in the gun homicide rate, but because of the low number of homicides in Australia normally, this change wasn’t statistically significant. Supporters of Australia’s policy often argue that no mass shootings have occurred since, which is only true for a certain restrictive definition, as last September a man shot himself, his wife, and their three children in a murder-suicide in rural New South Wales. There have also been a number of non-gun massacres in the years since the Port Arthur massacre. This past December, a mother in a suburb of Cairns, Queensland, allegedly stabbed to death seven of her own children and one niece. In 2000, a man burned a backpackers’ hostel to the ground in Childers, Queensland, killing 15.

Woman’s Parents Accepting Of Mixed-Attractiveness Relationship [The Onion] (1/14/15)

Admitting it took them some time to come around to the idea, the parents of local woman Laura Stevens said Wednesday that they had finally accepted their daughter’s mixed-attractiveness relationship with Kyle Baker, a man who is considerably worse-looking than she is. “To be honest, we were quite surprised when Laura brought Kyle to the house for the first time, but eventually we came around to it,” said Stevens’ mother, Janet, who noted that the pair were still met with uncomfortable stares and disapproval from other family members—especially Laura’s grandmother—at last year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

How Star Wars Conquered the Galaxy [Chris Taylor on Reason] (January 2016)

In 1978, the company sold more than 42 million Star Wars items; the majority, 26 million, were action figures. By 1985, there were more Star Wars figures on the planet than American citizens.

Kenyan Muslims shield Christians in Mandera bus attack [BBC News] (12/21/15) – DL

A group of Kenyan Muslims travelling on a bus ambushed by Islamist gunmen protected Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups, according to eyewitnesses. They told the militants “to kill them together or leave them alone”, a local governor told Kenyan media. At least two people were killed in the attack, near the north-eastern village of El Wak on the Somali border. The Somali based al-Shabab group is the main suspect for the attack.

The Rise And Fall Of ‘Pinky And The Brain,’ A Clever Cartoon Too Smart For Its Own Good [Ashley Burns on Uproxx TV] (12/30/15)

From the moment they were introduced in the Animaniacs story, “Win Big,” Pinky and the Brain became the most important laboratory mice in television history. It was the first time that the lovable, dimwitted Pinky would ask his best friend Brain, “What do you want to do tonight?” The reply, as any ‘90s junkie can still readily tell you: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.” They’re laboratory mice, their genes have been spliced, and they would become so popular over Animaniacs’ early run that in 1995 The WB wanted Pinky and the Brain to not only be its own series, but also a cornerstone of the new network’s primetime schedule. Unfortunately, the two cartoon mice who wanted to take over the world couldn’t even conquer their time slot.

Protecting People From Protected Speech [Noah Feldman on Bloomberg View] (12/30/15)

Here’s the issue in a real free-speech case just decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Can someone be refused a teaching certification because of his otherwise protected social or political views? The answer sounds like it should be no, doesn’t it? Now let me frame the exact same case differently: Should a state have to grant teaching certification to someone who says sex with children should be legalized and that there’s no point in trying to mainstream disabled students? It doesn’t sound like the answer should be yes, right? Behold the beauty, and the challenge, of First Amendment law. Not only are the questions hard, but it’s also hard to say what the right questions really are. So what did the court do? If you like the common-sense concrete, you’ll be pleased to know that the Ninth Circuit decision crafted a new doctrine for student certification cases, and held that the University of Hawaii could block Mark Oyama from becoming a teacher.

‘The Woman Who Wasn’t There’: The true story of Tania Head, who lied about being a 9/11 survivor [Bart Bealmear on Dangerous Minds] (6/15/15) – VicEq

On September 27th, 2007, the New York Times ran a front-page story about Tania: “In a 9/11 Survival Tale the Pieces Just Don’t Fit.” In the piece, it was revealed that no part of Tania’s story could be validated. Merrill Lynch, the company she claimed she was working for—the reason she was in the World Trade Center on 9/11—had no record of ever employing a Tania Head. Harvard, the school she claimed to have graduated from, didn’t have a record of her having attended. The family of Dave, who did die in the north tower, said they never heard of her. Friends and associates spoke of varying accounts that Tania had told over the years. The Times noted that she had nothing to gain financially from the deception…Tania’s real name is Alicia Esteve Head. She was born and raised in Barcelona, and led a life of privilege (she even had her own horse). Though her family lived on a glorious estate and hobnobbed with politicians and royalty, Alicia struggled with her weight and often felt like an outsider. She began telling fantastical stories about herself and amongst her friends she became known as a storyteller. Alicia loved Americans and even had an American flag hanging in her bedroom. During September 2001, she was enrolled in business school in Barcelona, and there is no evidence she was out of the country on September 11th. Not long after that, she moved to New York City and became Tania Head, the face of the 9/11 survivors. Not long after the Times story was published, Head disappeared, having never explained why she did what she did.

Still Ales: What You Need to Know About the Flat Beer Trend [Spike Carter on Bloomberg News] (12/31/15)

Teo Musso of Italy’s Le Baladin is a dreamer. Roughly 10 years ago with a vision of what he idiosyncratically refers to as “couch beers,” he created Xyauyù, an approximately 14% ABV barleywine that goes through a macro-oxidative aging process similar to port or sherry. There have been a number of Xyauyù variants produced over the years (the smokey Fumé for example, aged in Scotch barrels, or with Lapsang Suchong tea added), but the experiment perhaps reached its peak with Kentucky. This still brew is aged in bourbon barrels with tobacco steeped cold during the maturation. (Whole tobacco leaves were even hung ornamentally around the bottle-necks for the first batch.) The base beer’s dark fruit profile melds terrifically with the bourbon backdrop and earthy tobacco undertones. Note: While Kentucky is available in Europe, ironically the United States’ policy on alcoholic beverages containing tobacco is more…conservative.

Thai king’s dog, Khun Tongdaeng, dies days after ‘insult’ arrest [Agence France Presse via The Guardian] (12/29/15)

The favourite dog of Thailand’s ailing monarch has died, days after a man was arrested under the kingdom’s strict royal defamation laws for allegedly making a satirical online remark about the beloved canine. The dog, called Tongdaeng (Copper), became both a household name and a publishing sensation in Thailand after King Bhumibol Adulyadej adopted her as a stray puppy and penned a heartfelt book about her attributes in 2002. She was praised for her loyalty and obedience, with the book widely interpreted at the time as a parable about how Thais should live and remember their place within the kingdom’s rigid society.

Interstellar most pirated movie of 2015 with 46m illegal downloads [Ben Childs on The Guardian] (12/29/15)

Top Pirated Films 2015

93% of Executions Happened in Just 4 States This Year [Kristen M. Clark on The Miami Herald via Governing Magazine] (12/16/15)

Nationwide in 2015, executions dropped to their lowest level in 24 years, and the number of new death sentences imposed fell sharply from already historic lows, the center found. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have outlawed the death penalty, while another 12 haven’t executed anyone in nine years or longer, the center said…According to the report, 93 percent of the 28 executions this year came from four states: Texas (13), Missouri (6), Georgia (5) and Florida (2). Oklahoma and Virginia had one each.

Poetry used as ‘a perfect weapon’ for recruiting violent jihadis, study finds [Emma Hartley on The Guardian] (12/29/15)

Kendall argues that it is the Qu’ran that keeps poetry alive – even more so where the oral tradition is still strong, in areas where electricity and the internet barely penetrate such as eastern Yemen, where only 3% of the population has web access. Kendall’s research is based partly on data collected in conversation with 2,000 people in the sparsely populated but geographically huge Mahra region. Interviewees were asked about the significance of poetry in their lives, as part of a wider socio-economic survey conducted by the Mahra Youth Unity Organisation, an independent non-governmental body. “The survey was conducted in December 2012 by local fieldworkers, men and women, face to face, to capture illiterate respondents of both genders. A startling 74% of respondents believed that poetry was either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in their culture today,” she writes. “Poetry was found to be very slightly more important among the desert tribes than along the more sedentary coast, among those in the poorest economic group and among those who carry a gun (a result that was not explained simply by any greater prevalence of guns in desert locations). Surprisingly perhaps, the presence of a television and level of education made no discernible impact, and the importance of poetry was only very weakly correlated to increased age. Finally, poetry was found to be more important among men (82%) than women (69%). This is not surprising, since it is the men who mainly recite at formal gatherings.”

Most Billionaires Can’t Stay That Rich After 20 Years, UBS Says [Margaret Collins on Bloomberg News] (12/15/15)

Most of the world’s richest families 20 years ago have seen their fortunes shrink in the intervening decades, according to a report from UBS Group AG and PricewaterhouseCoopers released Tuesday. More than half, or 56 percent, of people with at least $1 billion in net worth in 1995 were not in that bracket as of 2014, the study said…Of the 289 billionaires in 1995, 126 remain in the group. Of the 163 who dropped out, 24 saw their wealth diluted among family members, 66 lost it to death and taxes, and 73 saw fortunes decline due to business failures and other issues, the report said. New billionaires more than replaced those who lost their riches. UBS and PwC gathered data on 1,300 billionaires globally, more than 1,000 of them minted since 1995. The majority derived their money from finance, technology or the consumer and retail industries over the past two decades.

Fox News Holds Its Lead in a Year of Growth for Cable News [John Koblin on The New York Times] (12/30/15)

It also certainly helped that the Republican presidential debates, featuring Mr. Trump front and center, broke records. In August, when Fox News broadcast the first Republican debate, it drew 24 million viewers, surpassing even the most optimistic expectations and shattering the record for most widely viewed nonsports event in cable history. CNN had three debates, which also ranked among the highest-rated nonsports cable events ever: two Republican debates with 23 million and 18 million viewers and a Democratic debate with more than 15 million. The cable news channels, however, still tend to skew older: The median age for CNN viewers this year was 61, while it was 63 for MSNBC and 67 for Fox News…Fox News had an average of 207,000 total-day viewers in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic, compared to CNN’s 149,000 and MSNBC’s 89,000. And even though this is the closest CNN has been to Fox News in that demographic in seven years, Fox still averages more than a million more viewers in prime time than CNN, including more than 100,000 viewers better in the 25-to-54 demographic.

Millennials’ views of news media, religious organizations grow more negative [Hannah Fingerhut on Pew Research Center] (1/4/16)

Younger generations tend to have more-positive views than their elders of a number of institutions that play a big part in American society. But for some institutions – such as churches and the news media – Millennials’ opinions have become markedly more negative in the past five years.


Children among the victims in the 2015 homicide surge [Christine Byers on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (1/4/16)

Jamyla Bolden, 9, was doing her homework on her mother’s bed when police say De’Eris Brown, 21, of O’Fallon, Mo., fired shots into the girl’s home in Ferguson on Aug. 18, fatally wounding her. Her mother was also hit, suffering a gunshot wound to the leg. She was treated and released. The death prompted vigils and a manhunt for the suspect. Ultimately, investigators with the Major Case Squad working on a case in another municipality got a tip about Brown. Sources say Brown believed someone else was in the home at the time he opened fire, and he cried during his statements to police over the death of Jamyla.

The Last King of Coal Makes His Stand as Mines Vanish Around Him [Andrew M. Harris on Bloomberg News] (12/28/15)

At 75, Robert E. Murray may be the last of the old-time coal barons. He’s not about to go quietly. At a time when the U.S. coal industry is beset on all sides — by environmentalists, by regulators, by the economics of shale gas — Murray has positioned himself as King Coal’s warrior-in-chief. And his main antagonist is the country’s commander-in-chief. He calls Barack Obama “the greatest enemy I’ve ever had in my life.” His fight with the president, he says, has gotten “beyond personal.”

Not-So-Happy Holidays in the Emergency Room [Mattie Quinn on Governing Magazine] (12/24/15)

There are a number of reasons emergency rooms get chaotic around the holidays: People are drinking more and eating less healthy, cases of depression often spike and colds and flus are common. “The most common things I see are gastrointestinal issues — people don’t watch their salt intake this time of year — and issues dealing with heart disease and depression,” said Friedman. But emergency room doctors in destination cities aren’t the only ones facing a hectic few weeks. James Williams, an ER doctor in Lubbock, Texas, which few would call a destination city, says there’s a roughly 10 percent uptick of patients during this time of year — many of whom come in for accidents involving Christmas lights. (The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that there were 15,000 holiday decorating-related injuries in November and December 2012.) In addition to the issues that holiday festivities bring, Williams also sees an increase in elective procedures like laser eye surgery and skin biopsies this time of year. That’s likely because people have hit their deductibles for the year and want to take advantage of cheaper, non-emergency surgeries before their health insurance renews in January.

Spying on Congress and Israel: NSA Cheerleaders Discover Value of Privacy Only When Their Own is Violated [Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept] (12/30/15)

The Wall Street Journalreported yesterday that the NSA under President Obama targeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top aides for surveillance. In the process, the agency ended up eavesdropping on “the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups” about how to sabotage the Iran Deal. All sorts of people who spent many years cheering for and defending the NSA and its programs of mass surveillance are suddenly indignant now that they know the eavesdropping included them and their American and Israeli friends rather than just ordinary people. The long-time GOP Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and unyieldingNSA defender Pete Hoekstra last night was truly indignant to learn of this surveillance:

  • WSJ report that NSA spied on Congress and Israel communications very disturbing. Actually outrageous. Maybe unprecedented abuse of power. — Pete Hoekstra (@petehoekstra) December 30, 2015
  • NSA and Obama officials need to be investigated and prosecuted if any truth to WSJ reports. NSA loses all credibility. Scary. — Pete Hoekstra (@petehoekstra) December 30, 2015

In January, 2014, I debated Rep. Hoekstra about NSA spying and he could not have been more mocking and dismissive of the privacy concerns I was invoking. “Spying is a matter of fact,” he scoffed. As Andrew Krietz, the journalist who covered that debate, reported: Hoekstra “laughs at foreign governments who are shocked they’ve been spied on because they, too, gather information” – referring to anger from German and Brazilian leaders. As TechDirt noted, “Hoekstra attacked a bill called the RESTORE Act, that would have granted a tiny bit more oversight over situations where (you guessed it) the NSA was collecting information on Americans.” But all that, of course, was before Hoekstra knew that he and his Israeli friends were swept up in the spying of which he was so fond. Now that he knows that it is his privacy and those of his comrades that has been invaded, he is no longer cavalier about it. In fact, he’s so furious that this long-time NSA cheerleader is actually calling for the criminal prosecution of the NSA and Obama officials for the crime of spying on him and his friends.

Fetal abduction: brutal attacks against expectant mothers on the rise in US [Joanna Walters on The Guardian] (12/2/15)

Every fetal abduction case has unique details, but there are also some clear patterns, experts said. The perpetrators, sometimes derisively dubbed “womb raiders”, almost always fake their own pregnancy. Then, they target a friend, co-worker or neighbor, or befriend a pregnant stranger online – sometimes several – and make plans to steal a full-term fetus. They have usually lost a baby of their own at some point and may be unable to have another, but often desperately want to produce a baby in order to keep a boyfriend or husband in the relationship. Theresa Porter, a Connecticut state forensic psychologist who specializes in female violence, scotched the notion that the prime motive is an obsessive desire for motherhood. “This is not the maternal urge run amok,” she said. The perpetrators are driven more by narcissism and grandiose delusions than an obsession to nurture, she said.

Hundreds of Sex Offenders, One Judge’s Order and a Defiant Governor All Clash in Minnesota [Elizabeth Mohr and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger on The Pioneer Press (St. Paul, MN) via Governing Magazine] (11/2/15)

Clearly frustrated by the state’s inaction to remedy what he deemed an unconstitutional civil commitment program for sex offenders, a federal judge Thursday ordered Minnesota officials to make specific, immediate changes. In his 43-page order, marking the apex of a highly publicized class action suit, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank directed state officials to take steps to remedy the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, including: — Begin reassessing all individuals held in the MSOP facilities. — Begin the discharge process for program residents who should no longer be there. — Ensure less restrictive facilities or placement options for residents deemed eligible for a custody reduction. — Establish a plan for annual risk assessments. A defiant Gov. Mark Dayton rejected Frank’s order Thursday and promised the state would seek to reverse the judge’s instructions.

Homan Square revealed: how Chicago police ‘disappeared’ 7,000 people [Spencer Ackerman on The Guardian] (10/19/15)

Police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people at an off-the-books interrogation warehouse in Chicago, nearly twice as many detentions as previously disclosed, the Guardian can now reveal. From August 2004 to June 2015, nearly 6,000 of those held at the facility were black, which represents more than twice the proportion of the city’s population. But only 68 of those held were allowed access to attorneys or a public notice of their whereabouts, internal police records show. The new disclosures, the result of an ongoing Guardian transparency lawsuit and investigation, provide the most detailed, full-scale portrait yet of the truth about Homan Square, a secretive facility that Chicago police have described as little more than a low-level narcotics crime outpost where the mayor has said police “follow all the rules”.

Meet the Woman Who Makes Porn GIFs for a Living [Chauntelle Tibbals on Mic] (11/20/15)

Marie-Chantal is a self-described “porn GIF-making gamer girl” in her mid-20s. She lives in Montreal, runs her own NSFW Tumblr and makes exclusive GIFs for some prolific porn producers, including Blacked, Tushy, New Sensations and Girlsway. She’s one of a handful of people who make GIFs to promote the content porn companies are producing, and she’s among the most popular: Marie-Chantal gets hundreds of Tumblr notes (NSFW) per day, and some of her posts garner thousands of reblogs or reposts. Two years ago, Marie-Chantal was stuck in a dead-end job, so she decided to go back to school. She took a multimedia production course, where she learned the basics of everything from Photoshop to After Effects. Eventually, she started her first porn GIF blog on Tumblr. “I started making [porn] GIFs as a way of sharing moments I liked from the scenes I was watching,” she told Mic. “Tumblr being one of the best place to find porn GIFs, I started my first blog on it.” Marie-Chantal spent about a year growing her site and her GIF library, focusing more on summarizing scenes than capturing key moments. After noticing another “giffer” had partnered with a porn company and was posting GIFs with affiliate links, she attempted to monetize her efforts in a similar fashion. She said she gained nearly 50,000 followers before an inadvertent terms of service violation resulted in her first account being yanked from Tumblr. But by then her name, KinkyMarie, was out there.


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Best of the Best:

Machines Are Better Than Humans at Hiring the Best Employees [Rebecca Greenfield on Bloomberg News] (11/17/15)

Looking across 15 companies and more than 300,000 hires in low-skill service-sector jobs, such as data entry and call center work, NBER researchers compared the tenure of employees who had been hired based on the algorithmic recommendations of a job test with that of people who’d been picked by a human. The test asked a variety of questions about technical skills, personality, cognitive skills, and fit for the job. The applicant’s answers were run through an algorithm, which then spat out a recommendation: Green for high-potential candidates, yellow for moderate potential, and red for the lowest-rated. First, the researchers proved that the algorithm works, confirming what previous studies have found. On average, greens stayed at the job 12 days longer than yellows, who stayed 17 days longer than reds. The median duration of employees in these jobs isn’t very long to begin with, about three months…Often hiring managers, possibly because of overconfidence or bias, don’t listen to the algorithm. Those cases, it turns out, lead to worse hires. When, for example, recruiters hired a yellow from an applicant pool instead of available greens, who were then hired at a later date to fill other open positions, those greens stayed at the jobs about 8 percent longer, the researchers found. The more managers deviated from the testing recommendations, the less likely candidates were to stick around.

Why a Billionaire CEO Takes Life Lessons From a Samurai [Pavel Alpeyev and Takashi Amano on Bloomberg News] (11/16/15)

Billionaire Masayoshi Son has been celebrating the birthday of someone dear to him — the maverick samurai who inspired him to drop out of high school. The chief executive of SoftBank Group Corp.  traveled to Kochi, a provincial capital on the smallest of Japan’s major islands and the birthplace of Sakamoto Ryoma, a 19th century samurai much loved in Japan, but little-known elsewhere, who helped modernize the nation’s government and economy. About 1,000 people gathered to mark the occasion…Son said his life was changed when, at 15, he read a book about Ryoma, whose cosmopolitan worldview inspired Son to leave high school a year later to travel to the U.S…Ryoma, born the son of a low-ranking samurai in 1835, played a key role in ending Japan’s 300-year isolation as part of the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. He is credited with establishing the nation’s first trading company and helping Japan to become a naval power. He was murdered at age 33 by still-unknown assassins loyal to the shogun…Despite his ubiquity in Japanese popular culture — he even has an asteroid named after him — Ryoma is largely unknown to overseas audiences more familiar with samurai archetypes from the feudal period he helped end.

A sour end to the year of Zardes: what we learned from USA’s World Cup qualifiers [Graham Parker on The Guardian] (11/18/15)

The popular clamor for Darlington Nagbe to get his chance in a US shirt rather overshadowed an equally significant debut in St Louis. Matt Miazga does not occupy a position on the field where he will ever solve the USA’s yearning for an attacking playmaker, but he is a highly rated young center back, he is in form for his club team New York Red Bulls, and he has all the makings of becoming a regular first team starter in at the back when he gets his chance. He’s also a poster child for Klinsmann’s emphasis on cycling players through the youth teams – in fact his rapid promotion has seen Miazga play for the Under-20s, Under-23s, and now full national team in the space of this calendar year. And while it’s possible Miazga’s insertion into the game against St Vincent & Grenadines may have had more to do with making sure he was tied to the USA before being tempted by Poland, for whom he is also eligible, it’s also not hard to see him becoming a key player in the USA defensive set up for the rest of this World Cup campaign.

Islamic State’s Goal: “Eliminating the Grayzone” of Coexistence Between Muslims and the West [Murtaza Hussein on The Intercept] (11/17/15)

The Islamic State is deeply unpopular among Muslims. Like their non-Muslim compatriots, French Muslims recoiled with disgust at the recent atrocities in Paris. Indeed, several of them were killed in the attacks. As such, it would be both perverse and counterproductive to lump them together with ISIS and blame them for the group’s actions. Similarly, it would be absurd to treat refugees, many of whom are fleeing the Islamic State’s draconian rule in Iraq and Syria, as though they too are responsible for the crimes of the group. Doing so would grant the Islamic State a propaganda coup, implicitly endorsing the group’s narrative of Muslims and Westerners collectively at war with one another. Instead, in response to an attack intended to sow xenophobia, Western countries should reaffirm unity for their own Muslim populations and honor their best values by continuing to accept refugees without religious discrimination. Simultaneously, they should also recommit to the military effort against Islamic State enclaves in Iraq and Syria, making clear that there is no contradiction to embracing Muslims at home while fighting terrorists abroad. Such an approach would show resilience in the face of violence, while fatally undermining ISIS’ Manichean narrative of “a world divided into two camps.”

Does alcohol really make you better in bed? [Sally Adams on The Guardian] (11/17/15)

Reviewing these articles and the corresponding research studies has made me think about the issues involved in studying sex and alcohol and in reporting and interpreting research findings. There are many complex individual differences in the psychological and physiological factors that influence the response to both sex and alcohol. The association between sex and alcohol is dependent upon alcohol dosage, alcohol expectancy, and measurement of alcohol and sexual behaviour. In terms of dose, there may be an optimal amount of alcohol to induce these positive effects on sexual arousal or performance. Once past that threshold the effects may be more negative. This notion is supported by the biphasic nature of alcohol, with stimulant effects as blood alcohol concentration increases, but depressant effects as it decreases again. Alcohol expectancy can also impact sexual behaviour during intoxication. Simply believing that drinking alcohol increases sexual arousal may lead to actual arousal during intoxication. Expectancies about alcohol consumption are a key element of research examining the effects of alcohol on any behaviour. It is important that research determines the impact of both the direct pharmacological effects and expectation. Finally, the way alcohol use is measured can impact on the association with sexual behaviour. The administration of alcohol in an experimental study versus self-report of alcohol use by drinkers is likely to yield different study findings. Furthermore, it is very difficult to directly measure sexual behaviour. Most studies have to rely on self-report of sexual arousal and performance or use proxy measures such as cardiovascular and physiological function.

A surprisingly difficult question for Facebook: Do I have boobs now? [Hannah Jane Parkinson on The Guardian] (11/3/15)

The social network Facebook and picture-sharing service Instagram, which it owns, have a community-standards policy on nudity which permits male nipples but not female ones. It states: “We remove photographs of people displaying genitals … we also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple.” Now that prejudice is being challenged.

Everything you think you know about happiness is wrong [Jess Whittlestone on Quartz] (10/25/15)

For all the focus we devote to happiness, we rarely spell out what it means. In fact, there are multiple ways we might interpret “happiness.” One important distinction is between intense, short-term forms of happiness—excitement, euphoria—and less intense, but perhaps more stable, feelings of calmness and contentment. Receiving a compliment from someone you really like might feel fantastic for a few hours, but it’s likely to dissipate in a day or so. By contrast, feeling like you having meaningful and supportive relationships in your life can give you a lower, but much more consistent, happiness boost. In an interesting paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers distinguished between two different kinds of happiness—calm and excitement—and found that they were experienced differently depending on the time frame the person was thinking in. When we’re focused on the present, we’re more likely to feel happiness in the form of calmness; when we’re focused on the future, we’re more likely to feel excitement.

The First Paris Massacre [Eric Margolis] (11/21/15)

Last week’s massacre in Paris was not, as almost every writer mistakenly claimed, the worst atrocity in the City Of Light since World War II. As the renowned Mideast expert Robert Fisk quickly pointed out, an even worse atrocity occurred in Paris 54 years ago, on 17 October, 1961. Paris chief Maurice Papon, a former Vichy official, who had sent over 1,000 Jews to their deaths during the war, unleashed his brutal riot squads on 30,000 Arab demonstrators calling for the independence of Algeria from French colonial rule. In an orgy of killing, some 200 Algerians were killed. Many were beaten senseless, then thrown from the Pont St. Michel bridge into the Seine River. 11,000 Algerians were arrested and cast into internment camps or a sports stadium. I was in Paris when this mass killings occurred. Six months later, I was again visiting Paris when four retired French generals tried to stage a coup d’etat against the government of President Charles de Gaulle and Prime Minister Michel Debré which planned to grant Algeria independence after 132 years of French colonial rule.

Black Tape at Harvard Law [Randall Kennedy via The New York Times] (11/27/15)

Racism and its kindred pathologies are already big foes; there is no sustained payoff in exaggerating their presence, thus making them more formidable than they actually are. Disturbing, too, is a related tendency to indulge in self-diminishment by displaying an excessive vulnerability to perceived and actual slights and insults. Some activists seem to have learned that invoking the rhetoric of trauma is an effective way of hooking into the consciences of solicitous authorities. Perhaps it is useful for purposes of eliciting certain short-term gains. In the long run, though, reformers harm themselves by nurturing an inflated sense of victimization. A colleague of mine whose portrait was taped over exhibited the right spirit when he jauntily declared that it would take far more than tape to slow him down.

The Statue of Liberty Was Born a Muslim [Michael Daly on The Daily Beast] (11/18/15)

The Statue of Liberty was originally conceived as a Muslim peasant woman and was to have stood at the approach to the Suez Canal, a lantern in her upraised hand serving as both lighthouse and a symbol of progress. But the sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi of France, proved unable to sell the idea to the khedive of Egypt, Ishma’il Pasha. Bartholdi remained determined to erect a colossus on the scale of the one in ancient Rhodes. He sailed to America with drawings of the Muslim woman transformed to the personification of Liberty.

The Statistical Dominance of Dr. Seuss  [Dan Kopf on Priceonomics] (11/11/15)

It is probably no coincidence that the pinnacle of Seuss’s career coincided with the baby boom. Louis Menand of the New Yorker points out that the year The Cat in the Hat was released was the same year (1957) that the largest cohort of children was born in American history (4.3 million). Geisel is the Beatles of children’s literature, an institution of popular art whose place in the culture is cemented by its relationship to the country’s largest generation. Geisel’s continued popularity is also likely a manifestation of the ingenious ways Random House, his publisher, has marketed his work. The company connects many of his books to major calendar events: Oh the Places You’ll Go for high school and college graduations. How the Grinch Stole Christmas for, you guessed it, Christmas. The Lorax for Earth Day. Horton Hears a Who for the newly created Anti-Bullying Day. Random House has also continued to publish Dr. Seuss’s unfinished works posthumously, which keeps Seuss relevant. Seven new books have been published after his death, including 2015’s What Pet Should I Get, which debuted at number one on the New York Times Children’s Books Bestseller list. Seuss also benefits from the relative timelessness of children’s literature. While only one of the authors with more than one book in the Barnes and Noble adult fiction bestsellers list is by an author not working today, Harper Lee, the children’s books bestsellers lists are littered with names of artists that haven’t produced new work in decades. Authors like Geisel, Bill Martin, Jr. (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See), Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon) and P.D. Eastman (Are You My Mother) still have considerable readership. Children’s literature is different because, up to a certain age, the main consumer, the child, is at the mercy of his or her parents. For the parent, reading children’s books is an exercise in nostalgia. A chance to revisit the works that you were devoted to as a child.

Nation’s $1 Billion Bioterrorism System Is Unreliable [David Willman on The Tribune News Service via Governing Magazine] (11/23/15)

The nation’s main defense against biological terrorism _ a $1 billion network of air samplers in cities across the country _ cannot be counted on to detect an attack, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. The BioWatch system, introduced with fanfare by President George W. Bush in 2003, has exasperated public health officials with numerous false alarms, stemming from its inability to distinguish between harmless germs and the lethal pathogens that terrorists would be likely to unleash in an attack. Timothy M. Persons, the GAO’s chief scientist and lead author of the report, said health and public safety authorities “need to have assurance that when the system indicates a possible attack, it’s not crying wolf.” Homeland Security Department officials cannot credibly offer that assurance, he said.

40% of Millennials OK with limiting speech offensive to minorities [Jacob Poushter on Pew Research Center] (11/20/15)

American Millennials are far more likely than older generations to say the government should be able to prevent people from saying offensive statements about minority groups, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data on free speech and media across the globe. We asked whether people believe that citizens should be able to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, or whether the government should be able to prevent people from saying these things. Four-in-ten Millennials say the government should be able to prevent people publicly making statements that are offensive to minority groups, while 58% said such speech is OK. Even though a larger share of Millennials favor allowing offensive speech against minorities, the 40% who oppose it is striking given that only around a quarter of Gen Xers (27%) and Boomers (24%) and roughly one-in-ten Silents (12%) say the government should be able to prevent such speech…Overall, our global survey found that a majority of Americans say that people should be able to say offensive things about minority groups publicly. Two-thirds of Americans say this, compared with a median of 35% among the 38 nations we polled. In the U.S., our findings also show a racial divide on this question, with non-whites more likely (38%) to support government prevention of such speech than non-Hispanic whites (23%).

This War Will Destabilize The Entire Mideast Region And Set Off A Global Shockwave Of Anti-Americanism vs. No It Won’t [The Onion] (3/26/03)

George W. Bush may think that a war against Iraq is the solution to our problems, but the reality is, it will only serve to create far more. This war will not put an end to anti-Americanism; it will fan the flames of hatred even higher. It will not end the threat of weapons of mass destruction; it will make possible their further proliferation. And it will not lay the groundwork for the flourishing of democracy throughout the Mideast; it will harden the resolve of Arab states to drive out all Western (i.e. U.S.) influence. If you thought Osama bin Laden was bad, just wait until the countless children who become orphaned by U.S. bombs in the coming weeks are all grown up. Do you think they will forget what country dropped the bombs that killed their parents? In 10 or 15 years, we will look back fondly on the days when there were only a few thousand Middle Easterners dedicated to destroying the U.S. and willing to die for the fundamentalist cause. From this war, a million bin Ladens will bloom. And what exactly is our endgame here? Do we really believe that we can install Gen. Tommy Franks as the ruler of Iraq? Is our arrogance and hubris so great that we actually believe that a U.S. provisional military regime will be welcomed with open arms by the Iraqi people? Democracy cannot possibly thrive under coercion. To take over a country and impose one’s own system of government without regard for the people of that country is the very antithesis of democracy. And it is doomed to fail. A war against Iraq is not only morally wrong, it will be an unmitigated disaster.

Dominicans of Haitian descent turned into ‘ghost citizens’, says Amnesty [Alan Yuhas on The Guardian] (11/19/15)

The Dominican Republic has violated the human rights of tens of thousands of people by stripping several generations of citizenship, according to a scathing new report by Amnesty International. The report details decades of discriminatory practices codified into laws that have turned Haitians and their DR-born children into “ghost citizens”. These stateless people lack identity papers for work, healthcare, schooling or the right to live in either nation on the island…Since the 1990s, Dominican authorities have created a “legal maze” of bureaucracy to recover their papers, the group said, noting a 2013 court ruling that rendered stateless anyone born in the country to an undocumented foreign parent. The ruling was enforced retroactively to 1929, leaving as many as four generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless and without valid documents.

Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill [Technology Review] (10/22/15)

Imagine that in the not-too-distant future, you own a self-driving car. One day, while you are driving along, an unfortunate set of events causes the car to head toward a crowd of 10 people crossing the road. It cannot stop in time but it can avoid killing 10 people by steering into a wall. However, this collision would kill you, the owner and occupant. What should it do? One way to approach this kind of problem is to act in a way that minimizes the loss of life. By this way of thinking, killing one person is better than killing 10. But that approach may have other consequences. If fewer people buy self-driving cars because they are programmed to sacrifice their owners, then more people are likely to die because ordinary cars are involved in so many more accidents. The result is a Catch-22 situation. Bonnefon and co are seeking to find a way through this ethical dilemma by gauging public opinion. Their idea is that the public is much more likely to go along with a scenario that aligns with their own views…Bonnefon and co say these issues raise many important questions: “Is it acceptable for an autonomous vehicle to avoid a motorcycle by swerving into a wall, considering that the probability of survival is greater for the passenger of the car, than for the rider of the motorcycle? Should different decisions be made when children are on board, since they both have a longer time ahead of them than adults, and had less agency in being in the car in the first place? If a manufacturer offers different versions of its moral algorithm, and a buyer knowingly chose one of them, is the buyer to blame for the harmful consequences of the algorithm’s decisions?”

NFL Owner Stan Kroenke Wants to Take Over L.A. [Ira Boudway on Bloomberg News] (11/18/15)

Things ended poorly for Jim Alabach, who worked for Kroenke for 28 years, beginning as an intern in 1985 and eventually rising to development manager at the Kroenke Group. Alabach helped find land, secure permits, and build stores. When he decided to leave two years ago, he and Kroenke shared ownership in three buildings in downtown Columbia, Mo. In 2011, the two borrowed $5.4 million from a local bank to finance the properties. After Alabach left, according to legal filings in a dispute between the two, Kroenke stopped making payments and, instead of renewing the loan or agreeing to sell the buildings and pay it off, he bought the loan from the bank, declared default, and demanded that Alabach pay the remaining $5 million in debt, plus $250,000 in late penalties—hardball tactics that may prove perfectly legal. The money was inconsequential to Kroenke, but potentially ruinous for Alabach. Inflicting harm, Alabach alleges in a breach-of-contract suit, was the point. “You can’t be in business with people like that,” Alabach’s attorney writes of Kroenke. Kroenke’s attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment.

‘I was fresh meat’: how AA meetings push some women into harmful dating [Darlena Cunha via The Guardian] (9/22/15)

Hankel said it was an expensive four-week rehabilitation center that finally helped her; a luxury most people suffering addictions cannot afford. She said many of the cheaper options focus on AA as their major recovery tool, and don’t address the underlying problems that may be causing destructive behaviors. At her facility, she was set up with a personal therapist who paid attention to the specific issues beneath her addiction. If people in rehab programs only focus on their dependencies, they are only scraping the surface of the problem, painting over a broken-down foundation without fixing the splintering wood beneath, Hankel explained. Without delving down to the root of the problem, it becomes more likely to grow again…[T]he National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) said the way they mandate recovery has already undergone vast changes in recent years. While it’s still not perfect, Terrence Walton, the NADCP’s chief of standards, said the courts mandate professional treatment before recommending a peer support group to facilitate long-term recovery. He also said that drug courts no longer specify AA/NA as the support group that must be attended, as was the case a decade ago.

Sounds like a hit: the numbers game behind Spotify cover songs [Lizzie Plaugic on The Verge] (9/8/15)

Spotify and, to a lesser degree, other streaming platforms have paved the way for hundreds of musicians to make businesses out of covering popular songs. These artists aren’t all as well known as the kids from Glee or Weird Al; in fact, you probably wouldn’t recognize any of them even if you saw them standing on a stage. Some hope covers will help them stand out in the endless landscape of hopefuls trying to carve out a space online, and that the millions of Spotify users searching for a big hit will find them instead. Others are singer-songwriters who tried to hack it as original solo artists only to find out that it’s way easier to make a living reimagining songs people already know. No matter what they hope to gain, they’ve found a niche in large streaming platforms, capitalizing on the intersection of huge audiences, broad search algorithms, and limited distribution deals that can leave fans searching in vain for high wattage stars.

In 35 States, Young People Are Dying From Drug Overdoses at Double the Rate [Mattie Quinn on Governing Magazine] (11/19/15)

In every single state, the rate of young people dying from drug overdoses increased in the past decade, according to a report released Thursday by Trust for America’s Health. In the past 12 years, the overdose rate for people ages 12 to 25 has more than doubled in 35 states and quadrupled in five. Back in 1999, not one state had a drug overdose rate of more than 6.1 per 100,000 young adults. Fast forward 14 years, and one heroin epidemic later, and 33 states had drug overdose deaths of 6.1 per 100,000 or higher from 2011 to 2013. The national average is now 7.3 per 100,000 youths. West Virginia, New Mexico and Utah have the highest rates of young adult overdose deaths, with each around 12 deaths per 100,000 youths in 2013. This is more than five times higher than South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska, which had rates around 3 deaths per 100,000 teens and young adults. There are some positive developments, however. Smoking tobacco is at an all-time low among young adults (at 9 percent nationally); underage drinking in high school has gone down (from 45 percent to 35 percent); and illicit drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds has decreased 13 percent since 2009. The rise of heroin and other opiates is one explanation for the decreased use of other substances. Some other illicit drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine, have become less popular, said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health.

How CS Lebowski fans set up their own football club … and honoured The Dude [Chloe Beresford on The Gentleman Ultra via The Guardian] (11/18/15)

The Ultras Lebowski were unsatisfied with modern football and the distance placed between fans and club. Some, but not all, had been Fiorentina ultras in the past. CS Lebowski evolved from a club called AC Lebowski, who were infamous for being unsuccessful. In one season they conceded 99 goals and were frequently bottom of the league. The idea of a new club was dreamed up by three friends sitting on a bench and, in 2010, these ultras set about realising the dream of a club owned by the fans, with a horizontal structure. This model is unique in Italy; anyone who has a €20 season ticket has a say in the running of the club and the decision-making process is democratic. A recent documentary on Italian TV perfectly illustrated the passion and principles of those involved with the club. The programme shows fans cooking dinner and eating together before every match, doing work on the pitch, and tells of an overall budget of €70,000 – 70% of which is raised internally through fundraising events. Team photos are always taken with the fans behind them in the Curva Moana Pozzi because the “fans are the players and the players are the fans”…A romantic idea this may be, but the remarkable thing about the Grigionero is that they have translated these ideals into success. Starting in the very bottom tier of Italian football, the first team have achieved two promotions in five years. Their model is inclusive, having established three teams in addition to the first team: a women’s team, junior team and an amateur team.

Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten [Anne Barnard on The New York Times] (11/15/15)

Ali Awad, 14, was chopping vegetables when the first bomb struck. Adel Tormous, who would die tackling the second bomber, was sitting at a nearby coffee stand. Khodr Alaa Deen, a registered nurse, was on his way to work his night shift at the teaching hospital of the American University at Beirut, in Lebanon. All three lost their lives in a double suicide attack in Beirut on Thursday, along with 40 others, and much like the scores who died a day later in Paris, they were killed at random, in a bustling urban area, while going about their normal evening business. Around the crime scenes in south Beirut and central Paris alike, a sense of shock and sadness lingered into the weekend, with cafes and markets quieter than usual. The consecutive rampages, both claimed by the Islamic State, inspired feelings of shared, even global vulnerability — especially in Lebanon, where many expressed shock that such chaos had reached France, a country they regarded as far safer than their own. But for some in Beirut, that solidarity was mixed with anguish over the fact that just one of the stricken cities — Paris — received a global outpouring of sympathy akin to the one lavished on the United States after the 9/11 attacks. Monuments around the world lit up in the colors of the French flag; presidential speeches touted the need to defend “shared values;” Facebook offered users a one-click option to overlay their profile pictures with the French tricolor, a service not offered for the Lebanese flag. On Friday the social media giant even activated Safety Check, a feature usually reserved for natural disasters that lets people alert loved ones that they are unhurt; they had not activated it the day before for Beirut…The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less. Either that, or that their country — relatively calm despite the war next door — was perceived as a place where carnage is the norm, an undifferentiated corner of a basket-case region.

Can farms be good for nature without being organic? [Karl Mathiesen on The Guardian] (11/18/15)

In the UK, 80 non-organic farms have signed up to the conservation grade (CG) scheme. This requires them to turn 10% of their land over to habitat specifically targeted at supporting their local ecology. In return, farmers brand their products with a “Fair to Nature” accreditation and can charge a premium for them. Research by the University of Reading (and partly funded by the Conservation Grade organisation) published on Wednesday in the Journal of Applied Ecology found that CG farms support 20% more plant and butterfly species than farms that work on the now discontinued EU-funded Entry-Level Stewardship (ELS) programme.

A “Double-Shot” of Cheating [Dr. Marisa Cohen on The Science of Relationships] (10/1/15)

In the famous paradigm used by Buss, Larsen, Westen, and Semmelroth,4 college aged participants were forced to choose between two alternatives when asked, which behavior is more distressing?: (a) your partner forming an emotional attachment with another individual or (b) your partner having sex with this other individual. Females largely found the thought of their partner forming an emotional entanglement with another individual more painful, while males selected the sexual infidelity option as being more troublesome. From an evolutionary perspective, this difference is due to the selection pressures placed on the individuals of each gender. Women fear that when a man has become emotionally involved with another, these women may lose some of the resources they have secured from their male partners. The man, however, fears that if the woman is having sex outside of the relationship, he is expending his resources on kin that potentially are not his, and as such paternity certainty becomes very important. Basically both are weary of a circumstance in which their genetic offspring are not getting the resources needed. Jealousy may have evolved as a result of the unique reproductive challenges that our ancestors faced. Men, in particular, had to struggle with paternity certainty. Women, on the other hand, respond with jealousy when they suspect that the resources provided by their men and reserved for their offspring are being diverted elsewhere. Therefore, they would worry most when their mates develop emotional connections with others as this signals the potential to re-allocate the resources to new women. However, not everyone agrees with this summary. Social-role theorists argue that the evolutionary-based argument is incorrect and the data are a result of the nature of the format in which the participants were polled. The “double-shot hypothesis” suggests that when forced to select an answer, participants will pick the infidelity choice they assume co-occurs with the other type of infidelity, meaning that they will choose the option that they feel incorporates the other.6 Specifically, men make the assumption that for a woman to have sex with someone, she must have already fallen in love; women suspect that for a man to have fallen in love, he must have already had sex with that outsider. Once the forced choice was removed and participants were able to rate their views on infidelity on a continuous scale (a scale of 1 to 5 indicating how upsetting they found the infidelity to be), gender differences disappeared. This demonstrates that the differences may partially have been a result of the question format.

Drones may predate Obama, but his resolute use of them is unmatched [Alice Ross on The Guardian] (11/18/15)

The first drone strike took place within weeks of the September 11 attacks, but the unmanned aerial weapons system came of age under Barack Obama. It was Obama who stepped up the most controversial use of drones, using them beyond internationally recognised war zones to conduct hundreds of strikes in the lawless regions of Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia…Obama and his team seized on these capabilities: in 2009, his first year in the White House, Obama carried out more such strikes in Pakistan than Bush had during his entire presidency. The following year, strikes hit Pakistan’s tribal regions at a rate of more than two a week. Concrete details on all aspects of these secretive campaigns, waged by the CIA and Joint Special Operaitons Command (JSOC), are elusive – Obama himself did not even mention drone strikes publicly until 2012. But independent monitoring groups such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the New America Foundation estimate that the US has conducted almost 400 such strikes since Obama entered the White House. This is not an arm’s-length project for the president. Senior officials have described on condition of anonymity how Obama, who holds the 2009 Nobel peace prize, personally signs off on the “kill list” and is often briefed on individual strikes.

Obama’s drone war a ‘recruitment tool’ for Isis, say US air force whistleblowers [Ed Pilkington in New York and Ewen MacAskill in London on The Guardian] (11/18/15)

The joint statement – from the group who have experience of operating drones over Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflict zones – represents a public outcry from what is understood to be the largest collection of drone whistleblowers in the history of the program. Three of the letter writers were sensor operators who controlled the powerful visual equipment on US Predator drones that guide Hellfire missiles to their targets…In one of the most widely publicised errors, the US government was accused by one of its own officials of making an “outrageous mistake” in October 2011 when it killed the US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader who was also a US citizen and was killed by a CIA drone two weeks previously.

Mythbusting Singleness with Dr. Bella DePaulo [excerpted from How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. on pp. 244-246 of Chapter 8, “There’s Nothing Sweeter Than Solitude.” by Bella DePaulo via The Science of Relationships] (10/15/15)

In the stories we tell each other about the workings of society, it is the married people and the traditional families who are holding us all together. Single people—especially those who live alone—are the isolates, holed up in their apartments, lonely and friendless. Yet when social scientists do systematic research, they find something quite different: singles look more like Dan Scheffey than the caricatures. Results of several studies—some of them based on representative national surveys—show that it is the single people, and not the married ones, who are creating and sustaining the ties that bind us. Single people are more likely than married people to do what it takes to keep grown siblings together. They also spend more time helping, encouraging, and socializing with neighbors and friends. Singles are more likely to live with relatives than married people are, and they do more than their share of caring for aging relatives and others in need. Asked the question “Do you currently or have you ever regularly looked after someone, for at least three months, who is sick, disabled, or elderly?,” it was the single people, more often than the married, who said yes. Single people also visit their parents more and exchange help with them more, even when their parents are still relatively young and healthy…The finding that single people—especially those who have always been single—are more connected to family and friends than married people holds up for people who have children and people who don’t. It is true for men and women, whites and nonwhites, poor people and rich people. Compared with people who live with others, single people and solo dwellers are also more engaged in the life of the cities and towns where they live. They take more music and art classes, participate in more public events and civic groups, go out to dinner more often, and pursue more informal social activities. I was impressed by the solo dwellers I interviewed, but not everyone’s personal story is an inspiring one. There are miserable and lonely and narcissistic people who live alone just as there are miserable and lonely and narcissistic people who live with spouses, kids, and other relatives or friends.

Groupies revisited: the women with triple-A access to the 60s [Kathyrn Bromwich on The Guardian] (11/15/15)

A new book, Groupies and Other Electric Ladies, brings together Wolman’s photos and contact sheets, the original magazine text – including no-holds-barred interviews with the girls – and new essays. The casual attitude with which the women discuss their pursuit of the most desirable “cats” is matched only by the casually disparaging attitudes of the journalists and musicians towards the girls…Central to the scene was Pamela Des Barres, known as “Queen of the Groupies” and widely acknowledged as the inspiration behind Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous. “We were muses to the bands,” she says. “It wasn’t all about bedding men, it was more about being around that creative force. We understood and appreciated their music, so they wanted us around.” Wolman adds that the influence was mutual: many musicians started dressing like the groupies, with stars and jewellery: “just look back at pictures of the Rolling Stones”.

“Parents Are Less Happy”: Fact or Fiction? [Andrew Willis Garcés on The Science of Relationships] (10/19/15)

Critics have noted that the authors of most such studies didn’t mean to say that having children causes parent unhappiness, but the headlines are often written that way anyway. Rachel Margolis, coauthor of the study that rippled through the news media last month, confirmed to Greater Good that her research was not intended to measure parent happiness, and added: “We’ve actually found that happiness increases just before you have a child, decreases just after you have your first child, and then comes up to the level you were at before the birth, generally.” The research of Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D and her colleagues on human happiness suggests that the real news is much less inflammatory than meets the eye. Dr. Lyubomirsky has written for Psychology Today on common myths about happiness, and for Time Magazine summarizing her research on parent happiness: “Our analysis revealed that certain types of parents (e.g., young parents and parents with small children) are particularly unhappy, while other types (e.g., fathers, married parents, and empty nesters) report especially high life satisfaction, happiness, or meaning. In other words, whether or not children go hand in hand with happiness depends on many factors, including our age, marital status, income and social support, as well as whether our children live with us and have difficult temperaments. Whether we ourselves were securely attached to our own parents is even a factor.”

Kasich Would Create Federal Agency to Promote ‘Judeo-Christian’ Values [Tom Troy on via Governing Magazine] (11/18/15)

Mr. Kasich’s campaign called Tuesday’s appearance a major national security speech. He said he would create an agency to promote Western values. “U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting have lost their focus on the case for Western values and ideals and effectively countering opponents’ propaganda and disinformation. I will consolidate them into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share,” Mr. Kasich said. He said those values are human rights, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association.

Life after Breakup: An International Survey [Morris, C. E., Reiber, C., & Roman, E. via Science of Relationships] (10/22/15)

To better understand life after breakup, researchers surveyed 5,705 people in nearly 100 countries about their breakups and experience of grief afterwards. The most common reason for breaking up was “lack of communication.” Women were more likely to initiate a breakup; those who were broken up with experienced more grief than initiators. Post-relationship grief was more severe emotionally (e.g., anxiety, depression) than physically (e.g., insomnia, weight change). Among those who were dumped, women reported slightly more emotional and physical consequences than men, although post-relationship grief was high for both men and women.

“I Hope My Boyfriend Don’t Mind It”: The Implications of Same-Sex Infidelity in Heterosexual Relationships [Dr. Amanda Denes, Dr. Jennifer Bevan and Dr. Pamela Lanutti on The Science of Relationships] (11/17/15)

Generally when committed romantic partners kiss someone besides their partner, this is considered a form of cheating. Yet female-female kissing by heterosexual women does not seem to garner the same negative response, perhaps due to the varying reasons women report engaging in such behavior. Some heterosexual women report kissing other women as part of the college social scene or for men’s attention, while others do so to experiment or explore potential same-sex desires.1 A 2012 study found that both women and men perceive women who kiss other women in heterosexual spaces (for example, bars that heterosexual individuals frequent) as more promiscuous than those who kiss a man, and that women and men perceive such women as more likely to be heterosexual than bisexual or lesbian. In some ways, this last finding may suggest that women and men do not always perceive female-female kissing as necessarily an expression of women’s same-sex desire. So then what happens when individuals in heterosexual romantic relationships engage in more extreme forms of infidelity, such as sex, with someone of the same sex?…To address this, an emerging line of research has explored responses to same-sex infidelity. Such research has revealed that women and men are less jealous of same-sex versus different-sex infidelity and that compared to women, men are more distressed by different-sex sexual infidelity compared to women. Conversely, women report being more upset by men’s same-sex versus different-sex infidelity…We also found that men generally respond more negatively to a female partner’s different-sex versus same-sex infidelity, feeling more anger with different-sex infidelity and more sexual arousal with same-sex infidelity. Men also report that they would be more likely to end the relationship in response to different-sex infidelity compared to same-sex infidelity. Women also reported that they would feel more negative emotions (such as anger, hurt, and generally being upset) in response to different-sex versus same-sex infidelity, but women were more likely to report that they would terminate the relationship in response to same-sex infidelity. How can we explain and understand these findings? First, these results may be related to the findings noted earlier regarding female-female kissing—the fact that there is not an equivalent framework for people to understand men’s same-sex sexual behavior (and that such behavior is less often depicted in the media) may mean that women have a difficult time accepting or acknowledging men’s same-sex infidelity. This may also mean that female partners may assume that a male partner who engages in same-sex infidelity may identify as gay, prompting the woman to terminate the relationship. Second, men may be more permissive of women’s same-sex infidelity due to the media’s fetishization of female-female sexual behavior and our society commonly depicting female-female displays of sexuality as being for men’s pleasure.

How Thailand Became a Global Gender-Change Destination [Jason Gale on Bloomberg News] (10/26/15)

The Southeast Asian nation is at the forefront of the growing practice of transgender surgery, capitalizing on decades of know-how, low-cost health care, and a ready supply of surgeons trained to perform the male-to-female procedures…Gender-affirming surgery, as it’s known in the transgender community, is a small but growing niche in Thailand’s medical tourism industry, which attracts more than 2 million visitors a year. Those patients generated about 140 billion baht ($4 billion) in revenue last year, an 18 percent increase on 2013.

Fighting Terrorism Was the Biggest Weakness of the Bush Administration [Jonathan Chait on New York Magazine] (11/13/15)

Chris Whipple’s revelations about the CIA’s urgent, ignored pleas to focus on the threat from Al Qaeda before 9/11 flesh out an increasingly consistent portrait drawn by Kurt Eichenwald and other reporters. A broad and consistent body of evidence had persuaded intelligence officials that Al Qaeda was poised to carry out a devastating attack against the United States. It was not just the famous August memo, “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” — the one Bush dismissed at the time as ass-covering — but a much longer and more desperate campaign to wake up Bush’s inner circle. Whipple reports, “Months earlier, starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.” But the Bush White House was dominated by neoconservatives, who were ideologically fixated on the threat posed by states and dismissed the threat of non-state actors.

Goldman: These Are the Brands That Millennial Women Love [Julie Verhage on Bloomberg News] (11/16/15)

In terms of winners, the team listed 20 brands on a “Love List” which is comprised of the names that score high in terms of affinity, word of mouth, and familiarity. There is quite a bit of good news for seven select names on this list. The likes of MAC, Free People, Sephora, PINK, Victoria’s Secret, Forever 21, and H&M have posted high results for three years straight. For the up-and-comers, Goldman has a “Brands Rising” list, which shares 20 names that have high rankings in terms of affinity and familiarity among millennials but are still “off the radar” for the broader population. Goldman says these names are worth watching as brands on the list tend to “show momentum” in subsequent years. Names taking high marks on this list are Topshop, Nasty Gal, Free People, and Kate Spade.

Dojo Pizza, Restaurant and Karate Non-Profit, Raided by FBI [Lindsay Toler on St. Louis Magazine] (10/23/15)

Police and the FBI were back at MRCKA’s Dojo Pizza today after a raid last month that was reportedly part of a human trafficking investigation. St. Louis officials have condemned the restaurant/dojo/former church building where seven girls were found to be living, according to KMOV. Dojo Pizza violated 38 building codes, including a code that restricts buildings from being used as boarding houses, and the pizza shop was infested with rodents and insects. The underage girls were living and working at Dojo Pizza because their parents were either homeless or in jail, and they were not being paid or given proper food, according to court documents reviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  The girls also had untreated lice, bed bugs and sprains, and they they had access to firearms in the building…The thrill of eating at Dojo Pizza comes from knowing that the place probably couldn’t exist anywhere outside St. Louis. Surrounded by a working-class and increasingly Bosnian neighborhood and just down the street from the city’s first ever skate park, Dojo Pizza launched in April 2014 as a nonprofit pizza restaurant housed inside a former United Methodist church, staffed by children in karate uniforms. Diners sit on high-backed, upholstered, dark wooden pews beneath stained glass windows. You’re supposed to pronounce the restaurant’s title acronym MRCKA, which stands for Ma-ji Christian Karate Association, like you’re sippin’ Southern Comfort on the Fourth of July: “MER-cuh.” The owner, a charming but oft-bankrupt preacher with a shady past, told me the pizza oven was donated by a student in the dojo who inherited it from a dead uncle. The whole experience feels like a martial arts-themed vacation bible school, but with pizza. How did this open in the first place? I wondered. And how long can it last? Apparently, not last [sic] much longer.

Mixing it Up: The Upside of Interracial Relationships [Dr. Tim Loving on The Science of Relationships] (9/30/15)

In the summer of 2013, General Mills did something apparently unthinkable: they depicted an interracial (i.e., mixed-race) couple and their biracial daughter in a Cheerios ad. Despite being almost 50 years removed from the landmark civil rights Supreme Court ruling in Loving v Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage, the backlash observed in response to the Cheerios ad reminded all who were paying attention just how stigmatized and polarizing the topic of interracial relationships remains…Interestingly, although most people are aware that support from society, particularly family and friends, for one’s relationship is a key component (i.e., generally necessary, but not necessarily sufficient) of a healthy, satisfying romance, the prevalence of interracial relationships and marriages has increased dramatically over the past 40 years…In their first study, they asked almost 250 undergraduates, all of whom were in dating relationships (24% dating interracially) to complete several measures via questionnaire. Participants rated themselves and their partners on how descriptive a number of desirable characteristics were of them. The research team focused on four broad categories of desirable characteristics, which they labeled: (a) Cerebral (e.g., intelligence), (b) relational (e.g., trustworthy), (c) vibrancy (e.g., confident, exciting), and (d) attractiveness (e.g., sexy, well-groomed). The primary objective of this first study was to determine whether individuals in interracial relationships, versus those in intraracial (i.e., same race) relationships, viewed themselves and their partners as having more desirable characteristics. Providing initial evidence that individuals involved in interracial relationships do so because different-race partners are more attractive partners (in terms of their desirable characteristics), individuals in interracial relationships rated their partners as more cerebral, relational, and attractive than did those in intraracial relationships; however, there were no differences in the ratings of self-attributes. But the first study only included perceptions of partners – and it is possible that people in interracial relationships might justify their relationships by exaggerating the positive qualities of their partners. Thus, in the next study the researchers recruited 100 couples (29% interracial) and asked couple members to rate themselves on the same desirable characteristics (recruiting couples rather than individuals provided a much larger sample of people involved in an interracial relationship). This time the interracial partners rated themselves as more cerebral and attractive than did those in intraracial relationships. The ratings for vibrancy and relational characteristics were in the same direction, but were not statistically significant. This second study does a better job of addressing subjectivity concerns by focusing on ratings people make of themselves versus the ratings they make of their partners. In the final study the researchers wanted to take it one step further — by testing whether outsiders perceived those in interracial relationships as more attractive than those in intraracial relationships. This time they had 101 couples (31% interracial) come into the lab to be photographed. The researchers then had a group of 10 individuals rate the physical attractiveness of those 202 individuals (i.e., 101 couples X 2) without having any knowledge of the photographed subjects’ relationships. Guess what? The 10 raters judged those in interracial relationships as more attractive individuals compared to those in intraracial relationships. Collectively, these studies provide some understanding for why individuals are attracted to partners of a different race, despite the intolerance they will likely face once involved with such an individual. Specifically, those open to mixed-race relationships are more attractive people and attractive relationship partners than those in same-race relationships.

How To Tell Good Studies From Bad? Bet On Them [Christie Aschwanden on FiveThirtyEight] (11/9/15)

They found that compared to simply asking experts to predict the likelihood that studies will be reproduced, asking them to bet money on the outcomes improved the accuracy of the guesses. The researchers began by selecting some studies slated for replication in the Reproducibility Project: Psychology — a project that aimed to reproduce 100 studies published in three high-profile psychology journals in 2008. They then recruited psychology researchers to take part in two prediction markets. These are the same types of markets that people use to bet on who’s going to be president. In this case, though, researchers were betting on whether a study would replicate or not. Before each prediction market began, participants (47 actively took part in the first market, 45 traded in the second) were asked two questions: How likely do you think it is that each hypothesis in this market will be replicated, and how well do you know this topic? They were then given points worth a total of $100 to bet on whether the studies in their prediction market would replicate. A replication was considered successful if it produced a result, with a p-value of less than 0.05, in the same direction as the original result. Players entered the market with 10,000 points each and could buy and sell contracts for each hypothesis. If a replication succeeded, then its share paid 100, but if the replication failed, then it paid nothing. “If you believe the result will be replicated, you buy the contract, which increases the price,” said the study’s lead author, Anna Dreber, an economist at the Stockholm School of Economics. “If you don’t believe in a study, then you can short-sell it.”…The prediction market correctly called nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of the attempted replications, 39 percent of which succeeded in the reproducibility project. By comparison, the survey conducted before the market began correctly predicted the result of only 58 percent of the replication studies. The prediction market anticipated a finding’s reproducibility better than asking the same bunch of experts to put their best guesses in a hat. Why? “The beauty of the market is that we allow people to be Bayesian,” Dreber said. People come in with some prior belief, but they can also follow prices to see what other people believe and may update their beliefs accordingly. While the survey required everyone to provide an estimate for every study, participants in the market could focus their bets on the studies they felt most sure of, and as a result, rough guesses didn’t skew the averages as much. Finally, putting money at stake motivated people to try harder to find the right answer and reveal what they really think.

Altar, Mexico: how the ‘migrant oasis’ for would-be border crossers became a trap [Rory Carroll on The Guardian] (10/14/15)

It has been dubbed a migrant “oasis”. Times change. These days it feels more like a trap. Organized crime groups routinely extort, kidnap and kill migrants, turning the town and surrounding desert into a high-stakes gamble. One roll of the dice gets you into the US. Another leaves your bones bleaching in the sand…Two rival factions of the Sinaloa cartel known as Los Memos and Los Salazar are waging a murderous war for control, leaving dozens dead this year in and around the town of Sonoyta, down the highway from Altar. Grisly photographs in the local press show their latest innovation: dynamiting captives…It was not always like this. In the 1980s and early 1990s local smugglers known as coyotes would lead groups through the thinly guarded border around Mexicali, Nogales and other urban centres, making small detours into wilderness. When the US ramped up border security after 9/11, coyotes switched to remoter routes through the desert, turning Altar, 60 miles from Arizona, into a major migrant hub. By 2007 several thousand reportedly passed through daily, a human wave which transformed the sleepy agricultural town. Instead of tilling fields of cucumber, melon and asparagus locals catered to the influx with minivans, hotels, flophouses, packed lunches and hiking supplies. The mafia promptly muscled in, demanding a cut.

GoFundMe Gone Wild [Judith Newman on New York Times] (11/6/15)

Given the frequency of the email solicitations, and the level of intimacy expected in the exchanges (another would-be author offered “immortality” to one lucky donor by writing her into her novel for $1,000), it’s not quite like ordering on Amazon. It’s more like Amazon stops by your house for a drink and at midnight is still chatting, while you try not to glance at your watch. I wanted to find a sociologist to comment on this phenomenon. When I searched for “sociologist” and “GoFundMe,” I came across this: “Send a sociologist to GDC!” Apparently a gamer working toward her Ph.D. in sociology needed money to attend a conference to complete her work on gender performance in rock music video games. That wasn’t what I was looking for.

Curiously Strong Remains:


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Best of the Best:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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