What I'm reading ed. 100116

Way too much happens over the course of two weeks. It took me 2 hrs just to take all the links and clippings and format them >.< . But for now, here’s the news. Again, highlights are in red.




  • Estimated death toll: 50,000 + rising. To put this into perspective, the 2004 tragic tsunami killed ~250,000 people in Indonesia (pop 240M), or about 1 in 1,000. Haiti has a population of 10M, meaning the earthquake killed about 1 in 200 (and possibly up to 1 in 50 (!))
  • Updates from TheLede (NYT): Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Advice on giving (from various development blogs): 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Photos from Haiti


Google vs China Hackers

  • The original announcement (googleblog)
  • Not your everyday normal hackers

    The attackers used nearly a dozen pieces of malware and several levels of encryption to burrow deeply into the bowels of company networks and obscure their activity, according to Alperovitch.

    “The encryption was highly successful in obfuscating the attack and avoiding common detection methods,” he said. “We haven’t seen encryption at this level. It was highly sophisticated.”

  • Reactions from China. 2
  • Fallows on Google and China 1, 2, 3
  • Who won, and who lost

    * Sergey Brin’s conscience
    * Justice
    * Baidu, Google’s biggest rival in China
    * China’s law enforcement and intelligence community

    * Google’s China users
    * Google China employees
    * Google’s shareholders, who will lose out on ~$600 million in revenues and a monster future opportunity
    * China’s economic development leaders

  • When law and ethics collide

    A fundamental precept for international companies is compliance with the law of the nation in which they do business.

    But a recurrent dilemma is what happens when that “national law” (e.g. state censorship in China) collides with the corporation’s global ethical standards (e.g. “no censorship” for a media company)?

  • Wall St Journal


  • Amidst all the climate change, some good, old-fashioned conservation: the Tiger is the most endangered species in the world.

    Conservationists say there are just 3,200 tigers left in the world as the future of the species is threatened by poachers, destruction of their habitat and climate change.

  • The potential effects of global warming
  • The first carbon tariff

    The first carbon tax to reduce the greenhouse gases from imports comes not between two nations, but between two states. Minnesota has passed a measure to stop carbon at its border with North Dakota.


  • If being a teacher is hard, being a substitute is worse.

    “Maggie,” a teacher in a Milwaukee public school, was talking about the difficulty of her job, which is something the teachers I know do quite a lot. Then she complained that her sub hadn’t completed the lesson plan she’d been given.

    “So, what you’re saying is that a teacher’s job is so hard, anyone should be able to do it for a day,” I said.

  • Guantanamo prison list
  • The impact of Walmart

    Walmart’s “Every Day Low Prices” policy has been alleged to reduce labor standards, to squeeze suppliers, to decimate small retailers, and to tear the social fabric. In virtually every instance, the empirical evidence available suggests that what Charles Fishman called The Wal-Mart Effect is at best positive, at worst benign. Walmart is a retailing innovator and a force for competitors and suppliers to reckon with. As a social phenomenon, however, the alleged negative spillovers from Walmart are greatly overstated.

  • What makes a great teacher? (Atlantic)

    But in 2003, the admissions staff looked at the data and discovered that reflectiveness did not seem to matter either. Or more accurately, trying to predict reflectiveness in the hiring process did not work.

    What did predict success, interestingly, was a history of perseverance—not just an attitude, but a track record. In the interview process, Teach for America now asks applicants to talk about overcoming challenges in their lives—and ranks their perseverance based on their answers. …

    But another trait seemed to matter even more. Teachers who scored high in “life satisfaction”—reporting that they were very content with their lives—were 43 percent more likely to perform well in the classroom than their less satisfied colleagues. These teachers “may be more adept at engaging their pupils, and their zest and enthusiasm may spread to their students,” the study suggested.

  • Reforming the prison system. (NYT)

    Whether out of neglect or leniency, probation officers would tend to overlook a probationer’s first 5 or 10 violations, giving the offender the impression that he could ignore the rules. But eventually, the officers would get fed up and recommend that Alm revoke probation and send the offender to jail to serve out his sentence. That struck Alm as too harsh, but the alternative — winking at probation violations — struck him as too soft. “I thought, This is crazy, this is a crazy way to change people’s behavior,” he told me recently.

  • The Decade: via Magazine Covers (AdAge)
  • Ted Olsen, a conservative for gay marraige


  • 2 good paragraphs on civil unrest.
  • Someone criticizes India’s conduct (instead of China) for a change.
  • A peek into Khamenei’s life
  • Nuclear weapon myths
  • On Iran’s Green Movement
  • 5 (more obscure) foreign policy traps for 2010

    * R.I.P., WTO: Why 2010 could mark the death of the global trade system as we know it.
    * After Pharaoh: Hosni Mubarak’s death — or worse, his refusal to give up power — could throw the largest country in the Arab world into chaos.
    * Welcome to Qaedastan: Yemen’s coming explosion will make today’s problems look tame.
    * Africa’s New Horror: South Sudan’s declaration of independence could thrust the country back into a bloody civil war.
    * Crimea and Punishment: On the eve of Ukraine’s presidential election, a resurgent Russia may use the disputed territory of the Crimea to reassert its hegemony over its eastern neighbor.
    * A Double Dip: Rising oil prices could drive the global economy into another recession.

  • UN World Progress Report in chart form.
  • I don’t think I’ve ever read a policy piece on Russia, so this was pretty interesting.

    D.T. You can’t say that Russia behaves unpredictably, irrationally. Its policies make perfect sense in relation to the ideas of the leadership. But this brings us to another problem: Putin and Medvedev do have a foreign policy, but in my opinion it is a pretty traditional and outdated. It is based on the notion that status is the most important consideration in foreign policy. The country must achieve the status of a “great power”, it must maintain this status, advance it etc.

  • Palestinian city in planning (WaPo)

    ATARA, West Bank — Work crews have broken ground on what they hope will be the first modern, planned Palestinian city – a step that officials say will help build an independent state in spite of the current deadlock in the peace process with Israel.

    But two miles (three kilometers) of the road would have to be built through a part of the West Bank that Israel controls, within view of a Jewish settlement, raising possible complications.


  • Debit card fees
  • America in Decline (Fallows)

    That is the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke. One thing I’ve never heard in my time overseas is “I wish we had a Senate like yours.”

  • Differences b/w the Senate and House health care bills.
  • Combining/Improving the healthcare bill merger (Klein)
  • Dysfunctional California, dysfunctional US?
  • The decline of (US) influence and what it means.
  • C-Span and the Kabuki Government…something whose state changes when observed? hmmm…reminds me of quantum mechanics.
  • The price of casino capitalism

    The second long-term distortion is similar to the first. Maxine is thinking of all those bright, young, energetic people who came out of some of our best universities and opted to go to work for investment banks, not in technical jobs, but as traders, ratings specialists, analysts, again to support the conversion of trillions of dollars into chaff. Many of them might have gone on to graduate degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, physics, engineering, biology or medicine. Graduate work in psychology, sociology, English, history, political science, public health would have added more value than destroying wealth across the globe.

  • More Paul Volcker on the Economy

    Q: Isn’t that exactly what they do on Wall Street? They basically say, if you’ve brought in $50 billion worth of business, then we’re prepared to give you a huge income?
    A: Sometimes they do it on the basis of stock and sometimes not. That isn’t going to solve all the problems, I agree. But you take the trading guy who says: “I brought in $100 million worth of profits, therefore I want $25 million.” Have they really taken into account that this trading guy is going on [the firm’s] reputation, capital, and risk when he went out there and made the $100 million? If he’s so good, let him go out and do it himself.
    Q: You feel strongly that the financial system has gotten out of whack. Do you think the American political process is capable of fixing it?
    A: The American political process is about as broken as the financial system. Therefore, one has to be a bit skeptical. Just to give you one little example, one unrelated to the financial crisis. Here we are on Dec. 29, almost a year after the Inauguration, and there is no Under Secretary of the Treasury. That should be an important position. How can we run a government in the middle of a financial crisis without doing the ordinary, garden-variety administrative work of filling the relevant agencies? The Treasury is an outstanding example of a broken system, but it’s not the only one.

  • Profile of Harry Reid (NYT)

    “Harry has the toughest job in Washington,” President Obama told me one afternoon last month.

  • Out of work longer (Economix)

  • Obama’s first year: charts and graphs (economist)
  • Obama’s first year: Article (economist)
  • ACLU vs Predator Drones
  • Wall St Pay: A Primer (Brookings)

Science and Tech (and Society)

  • Smart elevator tech in the Burj Dubai

    … a system called Destination Dispatch. The system is considered the most intelligent, energy-efficient way to move large numbers of people through tall buildings. It will be used in one of the areas of the Burj Khalifa with the most complex traffic patterns.

    … In the lobby, employees scan in their employee ID cards at a turnstile, and an LCD screen flashes which elevator to take. The system already knows where people are going based on their ID cards and generally by the time employees arrive at the elevators, one is waiting.The elevator stops at only one floor.

    In many Destination Dispatch elevators, there are no buttons inside. If you accidentally get into another person’s elevator or input the wrong floor, you must wait to exit the elevator to choose another floor.

    This tends to freak people out at first

  • Is Google good for historians
  • Connecting the dots is harder than you think.
  • Interview with a Facebook Employee

    The Rumpus: On your servers, do you save everything ever entered into Facebook at any time, whether or not it’s been deleted, untagged, and so forth?
    Facebook Employee: That is essentially correct at this moment.

    when the Iranian elections came up, and then the disputes, we found out they were using Facebook as a tool to organize themselves and expose their qualms and discontent with the government. So publicly we translated the entire site into Farsi within 36 hours.

  • Monsanto: I don’t mind GMO, but their business tactics are a little (lot) shady.
  • How has the internet changed how you think?
  • Taxes vs Fees. What you mean matters, but what people think you mean matters more (unfortunately.) (TNR)

    Test subjects were broken up into two groups, and each group was allowed to pick between pricier and cheaper versions of various items like airline tickets. Group A was told that the more expensive items included the price of a “carbon tax,” whose proceeds would go toward clean-energy development. Group B was told that the costlier items included the price of a “carbon offset,” whose proceeds would go toward clean-energy development.

  • Privacy in the digital age.
  • Hebrew script dating back to 1000 BC found

    Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month.

  • Blinded by (fringe) Science (classic)

    “There’s a very small set of people” who question the consensus, says Science’s executive editor-in-chief, Donald Kennedy. “And there are a great many thoughtful reporters in the media who believe that in order to produce a balanced story, you’ve got to pick one commentator from side A and one commentator from side B. I call it the two-card Rolodex problem.”

  • How to stop antibiotic resistant staph?

    OSLO, Norway – Aker University Hospital is a dingy place to heal. The floors are streaked and scratched. A light layer of dust coats the blood pressure monitors. A faint stench of urine and bleach wafts from a pile of soiled bedsheets dropped in a corner.

    Look closer, however, at a microscopic level, and this place is pristine. There is no sign of a dangerous and contagious staph infection that killed tens of thousands of patients in the most sophisticated hospitals of Europe, North America and Asia this year, soaring virtually unchecked.

    The reason: Norwegians stopped taking so many drugs.

  • Fear powered superpowers?

    But there’s a limit to how fast and how strong fear can make us. We’ve all heard stories about panicked mothers lifting cars off their trapped babies. They’ve been circulating for so long that many of us assume that they must be true. Zatsiorsky’s work, however, suggests that while fear can indeed motivate us to approach more closely to our absolute power level than even the fiercest competition, there’s no way to exceed it.

  • What do blind people see?

    But the stereotypical assumption—that blind people live in the sort of black nothingness the sighted see when we close our eyes—is actually the most rare of all the possibilities.

  • The economics of (hypothetical) baby selling


  • On Genesis: Missing the point for the interpretation

  • Tim Keller on Christianity and Evolution

    Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.
    This creates a problem for both doubters and believers. Many believers in western culture see the medical and technological advances achieved through science and are grateful for them. They have a very positive view of science. How then, can they reconcile what science seems to tell them about evolution with their traditional theological beliefs? Seekers and inquirers about Christianity can be even more perplexed. They may be drawn to many things about the Christian faith, but, they say, “I don’t see how I can believe the Bible if that means I have to reject science.”


  • This has been known to a problem for a while, but 24 million bachelors in China is still kind of staggering

    China’s “one couple, one child” family planning policy could leave more than 24 million men unable to find a bride by the end of the decade, a report says.

  • A pretty clever Chinese commercial from Visa

  • A really bizarre Chinese GM commercial


  • Obama’s brother, George

    Eventually the press found me in my slum. My new notoriety was a blessing and a curse. Many people presume I have a direct line to the White House, but I don’t. I’ve only met my big brother twice and have spoken to him just once since the election, to say congratulations. Still, because of our connection, I managed to pull in funds from philanthropists to support the work of the youth group.

  • A schizophrenic‘s tale
  • Memories of food (Ebert)
  • An artist’s time in the Mexican jails.

    Anyways. I went, and I met and talked to many of the prisoners. After creating an initial rapport, I cut them a deal: I would use a certain amount of my time to do things in their representation at a specific day and hour. At the same time they would do whatever I asked them to do as an artist. So none of us would be wasting time, we would be exchanging it. In other words, I would do whatever they wanted me to do and vice versa. And what they usually want me to do is to literally take their place in the outside world. To visit the tomb of their brother and say a few words; to ask their father for forgiveness; to go dancing with their mother; to go meet their son and act like the son’s father for a day; to read a letter out loud to a dying relative in the hospital.

  • The death of “Sunday, sunday, sunday” (NPR)
  • How I convinced a death row murder not to die. Disturbing and contains graphic descriptions of violence. You’ve been warned. (Esquire)

    For years, he said, he’d sat in jail wondering how he could do anything worthwhile, anything at all to help even one person, rather than just rot away on death row. The movie gave him an answer. He would carve himself up. He’d give away his heart and lungs and liver and corneas and bone marrow and whatever else could be salvaged. His “finale,” he called it. Let others live; let him die. That’s what he wanted.

Fun / Misc

  • Driving in Boston
  • How to make decisions (NYT)
  • Netflix / geography mashup (NYT)
  • How to brew coffee with C4

    As a side note, long before there was a Starbucks, we figured our C4 heated coffee was pretty expensive. A one-pound block of C4 was reported to cost about $90.

  • Twilight: Modern Warfare 2

  • 5 Seasons of Lost in 8 minutes (spoiler-ific)


  • Whatever happened to Biosphere 2? I remember reading about this as a little kid and thinking how awesome it would be.
  • Homes of the slums (Photos)
  • Random collection of unused news photos (w/ captions) from China (chinasmack)
  • 100 examples of paper-based art
  • The Kings of Africa (Photos)
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