What I'm reading ed. 100617

You know the drill –


Topics in the news: Israel, Gaza, BP, World Cup, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan


Must reads over the past two weeks

  1. Countdown to the BP disaster (GQ)
  2. What if political scientists wrote the news? (Salon)
  3. Science Funding: The “Broader Impacts” requirement (Nature)
  4. Solitude and Leadership (delivered at West Point)
  5. What is Israel blockading, really? (graphic, analysis)

And…one for fun BP coffee spill.


BP Oil Spill


  • Birds: Victims of the Oil Spill (Big Picture)
  • BP coffee spill
  • Massive Flow of Bullshit Continues to Gush from BP Headquarters (theonion)
  • BP spill: overlaid on your hometown
  • BP’s history of OSHA violations (graphic)
  • Failures leading to the BP oil spill (WaPo)

    Mr. Hayward and BP have taken the position that this tragedy is all about a fail-safe blow-out preventer (BOP) failing, but in reality the BOP is really the backup system, and yes we expect that it will work. However, all of the industry practice and construction systems are aimed at ensuring that one never has to use that device.

    This well failed its casing integrity test and nothing was done. The data collected during a critical operation to monitor hydrocarbon inflow was ignored and nothing was done. This spill is about human failure and it is time BP put its hand up and admitted that.

  • Countdown to the BP disaster (GQ)
  • How to clean a pelican


  • Lawmakers’ investments and policy interests (article, graphic)

    In 2008, while advocating for the United States to reinstate a gold standard, he (Ron Paul) reported owning up to $1.5 million in shares of at least nine gold-production companies. In addition, he disclosed up to $200,000 in silver stocks. In all, those holdings represented close to half of his assets.

    Judges cannot rule in cases involving companies in which they own stock, and executive branch officials must sell assets in industries they regulate or put them in blind trusts. By contrast, long-standing ethics rules for Congress generally leave it up lawmakers to decide whether their holdings pose a conflict and whether they should recuse themselves from a vote.

  • The true cost of oil (Klein)

    Some of the best work on this subject has been done by Ian Parry, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future. … it should be as high as $4.60.

    Oil might be cheap compared to its true costs, but adding those costs in wouldn’t make it unaffordable. That gets to the bigger issue, which is that energy sources are only cheap or expensive relative to one another. And the anchor beneath our reliance on oil is that, at this point, there’s nothing to replace it. “We’re pretty much stuck with our dependency on oil,” says Parry. “People need to drive and get to work.”

  • The Hitchhikers Guide to Risk (Douglas Adams, HT Klein)

    It was, of course, as a result of the Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots srDt 3454 that all mechanical or electrical or quantum-mechanical or hydraulic or even wind-, steam-, or piston-driven devices, are now required to have a certain legend emblazoned on them somewhere. It doesn’t matter how small the object is, the designers of the object have to find a way of squeezing the legend in somewhere, because it is their attention that is being drawn to it rather than the user’s.

    The legend is this: “The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.

  • Tariffs hurt the poor more than the rich.

    The disparities are staggering. In his research, Gresser found that the tariff rate on a cashmere sweater is 4 percent; the rate for one made of much cheaper acrylic is 32 percent. A silk brassiere has a tariff rate of less than 3 percent, but the rate on a polyester one is slightly less than 17 percent. The tariff rate on a snakeskin handbag is just over 5 percent but climbs to 16 percent for one made of canvas. Similar variations occur when it comes to household goods. Drinking glasses that cost more than $5 each have a tariff of 3 percent, while those that cost less than 30 cents each have a rate of 28.5 percent. A silk pillowcase has a rate of 4.5 percent; this goes up to nearly 15 percent for one made of polyester.

  • The obvious budget deal (Klein)

    The right move for deficit hawks would be to release a proposal that pairs a generous jobs bill with serious long-term reforms (for instance, a bill providing $300 billion in immediate stimulus and also lowering the cap on the mortgage interest deduction, bringing back the full estate tax and cutting defense spending). This moment, viewed correctly, actually offers a substantial opportunity for long-term deficit reduction because the need for short-term deficit spending gives hawks a bargaining chip that will bring liberals to the table. But no one seems interested in offering that deal.

  • How laws are made (graphic)
  • Why we don’t prepare for disasters (WaPo)

    Two final problems illuminate our vulnerability to such risks. First, it is very hard for anyone to be rewarded for preventing a low-probability disaster.

    The second problem is that there are so many risks of disaster that they can’t all be addressed without bankrupting the world many times over. In fact, they can’t even be anticipated.

  • Should capital gains receive a lower tax rate? (TheAtlantic)


  • Science Funding: The “Broader Impacts” requirement (Nature)

    Research-funding agencies are forever trying to balance two opposing forces: scientists’ desire to be left alone to do their research, and society’s demand to see a return on its investment.

    But no agency has gone as far as the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which will not even consider a proposal unless it explicitly includes activities to demonstrate the project’s ‘broader impacts’ on science or society at large. “The criterion was established to get scientists out of their ivory towers and connect them to society,” explains Arden Bement, director of the NSF in Arlington, Virginia.

    Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough to guarantee success, says Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, a physicist at the University of Texas in Dallas who is active in popular science writing and other forms of outreach.

  • Relative sizes of space objects



  • Deadly: The Televised Food Diet (Time)

    When the research team calculated the nutritional content of a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet containing only foods that were advertised on television, they found that it exceeded the government’s recommended daily amount of fat by 20 times and had 25 times the recommended daily intake of sugar.

  • 12 Financial Concepts you should know
  • Cyber-athletes or just computer-gamers?

    One leading gamer in his twenties appeared to be slim and healthy with a physique similar to an endurance athlete.

    But tests revealed he in fact had the lung function and aerobic fitness of a heavy smoker in his sixties.

  • What is happiness? (TED, 17 min)

    “Below 60,000 dollars a year, people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, we get an absolutely flat line. I mean I’ve rarely seen lines so flat.”

    “Clearly… money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery,” he said. But the real trick, Kahneman said, is to spend time with people you like.

  • Why is $60K enough to make you happy?
  • Profile of Julian Assange, Founder of Wikileaks (New Yorker)
  • What if political scientists wrote the news? (Salon)

    Prospects for an energy bill, meanwhile, are looking grim, since Obama has spent all his political capital. He used to have a lot. Now it’s gone. Why winning legislative battles builds momentum but saps political capital, I have no idea. Just go with it.

  • Pricey grocery stores have skinnier shoppers

    The percentage of food shoppers who are obese is almost 10 times higher at low-cost grocery stores compared with upscale markets, a small new study shows.

  • A sociologist writes the news
  • Interracial Marriage: We’re all gonna be mutts (Pew, graphic, excerpts)

    A record 14.6% of all new marriages in the United States in 2008 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another. This includes marriages between a Hispanic and non-Hispanic (Hispanics are an ethnic group, not a race) as well as marriages between spouses of different races — be they white, black, Asian, American Indian or those who identify as being of multiple races or “some other” race.

    Among all newlyweds in 2008, 9% of whites, 16% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 31% of Asians married someone whose race or ethnicity was different from their own.

    Gender patterns in intermarriage vary widely. Some 22% of all black male newlyweds in 2008 married outside their race, compared with just 9% of black female newlyweds. Among Asians, the gender pattern runs the other way. Some 40% of Asian female newlyweds married outside their race in 2008, compared with just 20% of Asian male newlyweds. Among whites and Hispanics, by contrast, there are no gender differences in intermarriage rates.

  • The Sperm Donor Kids aren’t as all right (slate)

    The results are surprising. While adoption is often the center of controversy, it turns out that sperm donation raises a host of different but equally complex—and sometimes troubling—issues. Two-thirds of adult donor offspring agree with the statement “My sperm donor is half of who I am.” Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related. About two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth about their origins.

  • US intra-state migration (Forbes)


  • World Cup Posters
  • Top 10 South African terms to know for the World Cup
  • Venues of the 2010 World Cup (SI, photos)
  • Photos from the Stanley Cup (Tribune)
  • 10 Teams to watch in the World Cup
  • Solitude and Leadership (delivered at West Point)

    I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

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