Posts Tagged ‘everything is terrible

01
Dec
15

Roundup – HOOP SOLDIERS

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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13
Nov
15

Roundup – DOT COM FOR MURDER

Best of the Best:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curiously Strong Remains:

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16
Oct
15

Roundup – THE UNINVITED

Best of the Best:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curiously Strong Remains:

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01
Oct
15

Roundup – Evolution Is, As Evolution Does

Best of the Best:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curiously Strong Remains:

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

21
Oct
10

Roundup – THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH!

Line O’ the Day:

“Let’s get into the real reason why breast cancer has the best Q rating of all cancers: BOOBS. Boobs are crucial to men and women alike. What woman wants to live without boobs? What man wants to live with a woman without boobs? Boobs are the key to EVERYTHING. A prostate is just a walnut God jammed inside your taint. Boobs, on the other hand, are majestic. They nurture. They protect. They look AWESOME in v-neck sweaters. They must be sheltered and protected. They must be allowed to grow, and thrive, and be nuzzled against. Even old lady boobs. Even a 61-year-old gal’s wrinkled, hairy, distressed leather coin pouches deserve your generous support. Don’t hate on Susan Komen and the gang just because they have better marketing savvy than Uncle Barney’s Olde Tyme Prostate Fund.”

– Big Daddy Drew,Does Breast Cancer Unfairly Hog The Cancer Spotlight? [Deadspin]

Best of the Best:

The Moon affects rainfall here on Earth…and we have no idea why [ScienceNow via io9]

There’s an old wives’ tale that says rain follows both the full and new Moon. Scientists found some proof of this back in the 1960s, and now a new study reveals that the Moon could be responsible for as much as one to two percent of rain and steam runoff. But, as you can read over at ScienceNow, the actual cause of this phenomenon is still anyone’s guess.

Allen Iverson Recognizes The Sad Truth About Allen Iverson [Barry Petchesky on Deadspin]

Yahoo Sports is reporting that Iverson is thisclose to signing with Turkish side Beşiktaş, but the fact that negotiations have been so drawn out should be an indicator that he’s not doing it for the love of the game. You’d think that after so many years and so many millions, he wouldn’t need the money, but certain NBA stars have a way of needing the money.

Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite [The Nation]

But with his relentless diatribes against “illegals” and their employers, Dobbs is casting stones from a house—make that an estate—of glass. Based on a yearlong investigation, including interviews with five immigrants who worked without papers on his properties, The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute have found that Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper.

A Detailed Look At Global Wealth Distribution [Credit Suisse via Zero Hedge]

Per CS, Figure 1 shows “The global wealth pyramid” in striking detail. It is made up of a solid base of low wealth holders with upper tiers occupied by fewer and fewer people. We estimate that 3 billion individuals – more than two thirds of the global adult population – have wealth below USD 10,000. A further billion adults (24% of the world population) are placed in the USD 10,000–100,000 range, leaving 358 million adults (8% of the world population) with  assets above USD 100,000. Figures for mid-2010 indicate that 24.2 million adults are above the threshold for dollar millionaires. While they make up less than 1% of the global adult population, they own more than a third of global household wealth. More specifically, individuals with wealth above USD 50 million are estimated to number 81,000 worldwide.

Stories That Don’t Suck: The Epic Tale Of America’s Greatest Ping-Pong Hustler [“Smash” by Howard Jacobson via Table Tennis News via Tablet via Deadspin]

Not everyone recognized him immediately. You’re not looking at other people much when you’re battling arthritis and want nothing else on earth but to take a ping-pong trophy home to Vilnius to show your grandchildren’s grandchildren. But when he began to play, competitors around him stopped to watch, first one table, then another, until finally all 100 tables were quiet, and even the most sponge-committed of the veterans—oldsters with sprung sponge mattresses in their hands, who could stamp-serve and twist themselves around the ball in the requisite Quasimodo manner of the young—had to admit that table tennis played by a master of the old game was a beautiful sight to behold. And more than that, brought back to us why players and non-players alike had once been excited by it, and no longer were.

China’s Pipelineistan ‘War’ [Pepe Escobar via Tom Englehardt via LRC]

For the moment, Beijing’s strategic priority has been to carefully develop a remarkably diverse set of energy-suppliers – a flow of energy that covers Russia, the South China Sea, Central Asia, the East China Sea, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. If China has so far proven masterly in the way it has played its cards in its Pipelineistan “war,” the U.S. hand – bypass Russia, elbow out China, isolate Iran – may soon be called for what it is: a bluff.

Battle in Belgrade [James Kirchick on Foreign Policy]

About an hour before the rally began, small disturbances began between anti-gay protesters and police just a half-mile or so from the rally. Running toward the noise (which alternated between chants of “Kill, kill, kill the gays” and other crude slogans), I was passed by two police officers, one visibly injured. Moments later, as I tried to take a picture of the ensuing chaos, a screaming hooligan ran up to me, smashing my camera hard into my face. I ran from the scene before I could see what, if anything, the police did to him in response.

Dispatch From the Knife’s Edge [James Kirchick on The New Republic]

For more than four days in early June, the southern part of Kyrgyzstan—a poor, landlocked country of 5.4 million people located west of China’s Xinjiang Province—was wracked by ethnic riots. The violence pitted ethnic Kyrgyz, who make up a majority of the country’s population, against ethnic Uzbeks, a substantial minority. Crimes were committed by both sides. But it was the Kyrgyz who controlled the levers of power, and who, motivated by rumors of Uzbek atrocities and perhaps by videos like the ones I saw, were responsible for most of the violence.

High court won’t review Utah tax on nude bars [Utah News]

That court upheld a 2004 decision by the Utah Legislature to enact a 10 percent tax on sexually explicit businesses in an effort to pay for sex offender treatment. The tax covered everything a sexually explicitly business sold — admission, T-shirts and hamburgers included.

5 times we almost nuked ourselves by accident [Ed Grabianowski on io9]

In the waters off Tybee Island, Georgia, right at the Georgia/South Carolina border and not far from Savannah, buried in about 10 feet of silt is a hydrogen bomb. It’s been there for more than 50 years.

How heat can cross a vacuum [Hyperphysics, Physics World, and Science Alert via io9]

Quantum tunneling has long been studied with photons. Because they are both particles and clouds of probability, they can ‘tunnel’ through barriers. As a particle, a photon can move up to a barrier – close enough that its ‘cloud of probability’ falls on the other side. Since walls can’t limit abstract ideas such as probability functions, the photon just is at the other side of the barrier. This is quantum tunneling. It’s one of the reasons our sun shines. It’s been calculated that the heat at the center of the sun is not enough to induce fusion. Quantum tunneling is responsible for the hydrogen atoms in the sun moving through the barriers which separate them and fusing.

In the forests of Siberia, Yetis are fighting bears [The Voice of Russia via io9]

If this “war” between yetis and bears continues, there is a risk that bears will not sleep this winter because of a shortage of food, instead going to villages in search of something to eat. To prevent this, the region’s authorities plan to organize bear feeding.

Crazy Josh McDaniels Gets An Unwelcome Oklahoma Telegram [Big Daddy Drew on KSK]

“Men, this is fucking WAR. This is what you were built for. I want you to take a look at that sign over there on the wall. (Sign: “BEFORE MAN WAS, WAR WAITED FOR HIM. THE ULTIMATE TRADE AWAITING ITS ULTIMATE PRACTITIONER.”) That’s from a Cormac McCarthy book. I read that shit at night specifically to find sentences that will send your fucking dick to the moon. YOU WERE BORN FOR WAR. GOD MADE YOU SO THAT YOU COULD KILL AND WIN AND FUCKING TAKE WHAT’S YOURS.”

It’s the Occupation, Stupid [Foreign Policy]

More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation, according to extensive research that we conducted at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism, where we examined every one of the over 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to the present day. As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, which have a combined population of about 60 million, total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically — from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009. Further, over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.  Israelis have their own narrative about terrorism, which holds that Arab fanatics seek to destroy the Jewish state because of what it is, not what it does. But since Israel withdrew its army from Lebanon in May 2000, there has not been a single Lebanese suicide attack. Similarly, since Israel withdrew from Gaza and large parts of the West Bank, Palestinian suicide attacks are down over 90 percent.

O’Donnell’s Constitution Question Floors Audience [Surge Desk on AOL News]

After scolding Coons for his lack of knowledge of constitutional law for stating that intelligent design should not be taught in public schools (a matter decided in a scathing decision in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District), O’Donnell challenged her rival on his assertion that the U.S. Constitution creates a distinct separation between church and state.  “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked. Upon hearing her words, the audience in the room burst into laughter.

Reform must, and will, come to Russia [Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky via The Los Angeles Times]

Russia is approaching the very same point that the USSR found itself in back in the second half of the 1980s. Then there arose a crisis of the communist ideology as the planned economy of “real socialism” revealed its strategic inefficiency. For Russia, the second decade of the 21st century will become a period of crisis for a system built on corruption and hands-on control. Insightful Russians with initiative, knowing how to look to the future, understand this already.  In my youth, the leaders of the USSR had no desire whatsoever to leave power. But history obliged them to do so just the same. Today’s Russian theoreticians and practitioners of “vertically corrupt management” have no intention of going anywhere.  But they will have to. I know. I’ve seen it before.

The Man Who Tamed the Cocaine Capital [Constantino Diaz-Duran on The Daily Beast]

To end the scourge of drug trafficking, Fajardo believes it is important to consider legalizing drugs as one of the first steps…Look at what’s happening in Mexico…”It is so painful, that violence that drug trafficking generates. I think we need to understand this problem and view it from a different perspective. It makes no sense to jail people for using or selling drugs.” Like Gaviria, Fajardo believes that “eventually all drugs should be legalized,” but he emphasized that “this must be a global discussion. This is not something that Latin American countries can do unilaterally.”

China Hides Rampant Inflation in Money Binge [Patrick Chovanec via Bloomberg]

In reality, there is rampant inflation in China. It’s just showing up in asset prices. The new money that was created entered the economy as loans, mainly to fund investment in fixed assets. When it finally reached consumers, they bought tangibles, like property, instead of spending on consumer goods.  Asset-price inflation is tricky because it doesn’t feel like inflation. When the price of bread doubles, it feels like it’s getting harder to make ends meet. When condo prices double, it looks like smart investors are getting rich. But it’s only a matter of time before asset inflation starts working its way through the rest of the economy as broader price inflation — and puts China’s policy makers in a serious bind.

Why I Got Fired From Teaching American History [Thaddeus Russell via The Huffington Post]

I gave my students a history that was structured around the oldest issue in political philosophy but which professional historians often neglect – the conflict between the individual and community, or what Freud called the eternal struggle between civilization and its discontents. College students are normally taught a history that is the story of struggles between capitalists and workers, whites and blacks, men and women. But history is also driven by clashes between those interested in preserving social order and those more interested in pursuing their own desires — the “respectable” versus the “degenerate,” the moral versus the immoral, “good citizens” versus the “bad.” I wanted to show that the more that “bad” people existed, resisted, and won, the greater was what I called “the margin of freedom” for all of us. My students were most troubled by the evidence that the “good” enemies of “bad” freedoms were not just traditional icons like presidents and business leaders, but that many of the most revered abolitionists, progressives, and leaders of the feminist, labor, civil rights, and gay rights movements worked to suppress the cultures of working-class women, immigrants, African Americans, and the flamboyant gays who brought homosexuality out of the closet.
A handless model in Belgium who posed topless for as part of a campaign to raise awareness of disability issues has become an overnight celebrity after being inundated with interview requests from all over Europe. Smiling directly at the camera, glamorous 35-year old Tanja Kiewitz, posed for the shoot in a plunging black bra which adorned an advert which read: ‘look me in the eyes… I said the eyes’.

Whimsical Remains:

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

24
Mar
10

Roundup – Steven Seagal and Wine

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Line O’ the Day:

“And, with a few very mild exceptions, Obama — since he was inaugurated — has affirmatively embraced one radical secrecy doctrine after the next that used to be controversial among Democrats (back when Bush used them).” – Glenn Greenwald, Obama Threatens to Veto Greater Intelligence Oversight [Salon]

“One Republican leader after the next stood up yesterday to depict the health care bill as a grave threat to democracy because it was enacted in the face of disapproval from a majority of Americans...Of course, these are the same exact people who spent years funding the Iraq War without end and without conditions even in the face of extreme public opposition, which consistently remained in the 60-65% range.” – Glenn Greenwald, The GOP’s Newfound Love of Public Opinion [Salon]

Best of the Best:

The Remains:




Categories