What I'm reading ed. 100705

Moving and being in a wedding take up lots of time. Next update will have real content. Promise!


Things in the news: World Cup! Kagan, McChrystal, BP Oil Spill (slowly fading), Economic falterings, July 4th, and did I mention the World Cup? (Oh, I suppose Wimbledon as well. And the Tour de France. And the Lebron James Sweepstakes.)


Here’s your top 5

  1. The Renegade General (McChrystal)(RollingStone)
  2. Kagan hearing write-ups.
  3. Who’s a scientist? 7th graders describe and draw scientists after a visit to Fermilab
  4. James Sturm is quitting the internet
  5. Life inside the North Korean bubble (BBC + video, 15 min, worth watching)



The Oil Spill / Environment

  • Regulations + bad regulators = no regulations

    The company responded that it applies for permits to drill oil wells “in accordance with the process prescribed by MMS officials,” but goes on to say that it was not “MMS practice” to require anyone to comply with that particular section of the law.

    “I find it very disturbing that BP asserts that the ‘practice’ in oil drilling is to avoid current laws designed to keep our beaches safe,” Grassley responded in his letter. “And I am outraged that MMS is looking the other way.”

  • Coal’s toxic sludge (Rolling Stone)

    When you burn it, coal releases monstrous quantities of deadly compounds and gases — and it all has to go somewhere. The worst of the waste — heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and mercury, all of which are highly toxic — are concentrated in the ash that’s left over after coal is burned or in the dirty sludge that’s scrubbed from smokestacks. Each year, coal plants in the U.S. churn out nearly 140 million tons of coal ash — more than 900 pounds for every American — generating the country’s second-largest stream of industrial waste, surpassed only by mining. If you piled all the coal ash on a single football field, it would create a toxic mountain more than 20 miles high.

  • Fracking: The dirty side to natural gas

    “Fracking,” as it’s colloquially known, involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals, many of them toxic, into the earth at high pressures to break up rock formations and release natural gas trapped inside.

  • Aerial footage of the oil slick
  • The “What went wrong” chart for the BP Oil Spill (FP)
  • Oil spill impact (interactive map)

Politics and Policy

  • Atul Gawande’s Commencement Speech to the Stanford School of Medicine

    You come into medicine and science at a time of radical transition. You have met the older doctors and scientists who tell the pollsters that they wouldn’t choose their profession if they were given the choice all over again. But you are the generation that was wise enough to ignore them: for what you are hearing is the pain of people experiencing an utter transformation of their world. Doctors and scientists are now being asked to accept a new understanding of what great medicine requires. It is not just the focus of an individual artisan-specialist, however skilled and caring. And it is not just the discovery of a new drug or operation, however effective it may seem in an isolated trial. Great medicine requires the innovation of entire packages of care—with medicines and technologies and clinicians designed to fit together seamlessly, monitored carefully, adjusted perpetually, and shown to produce ever better service and results for people at the lowest possible cost for society.

  • The Renegade General (McChrystal)(RollingStone)
  • The Media-Lobbying Complex

    The first step, Ridge explained, was to “create nuclear power plants.” Combined with some waste coal and natural gas extraction, you would have an “innovation setter” that would “create jobs, create exports.”

    As Ridge counseled the administration to “put that package together,” he sure seemed like an objective commentator. But what viewers weren’t told was that since 2005, Ridge has pocketed $530,659 in executive compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power company.

    Moments earlier, retired general and “NBC Military Analyst” Barry McCaffrey told viewers that the war in Afghanistan would require an additional “three- to ten-year effort” and “a lot of money.” Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone.

    In a single hour, two men with blatant, undisclosed conflicts of interest had appeared on MSNBC.

  • Kagan hearing write-ups.

    Simply put, this squat, henny-penny little woman has TV-star quality: mobile features, a mischievous smile, all-but-unshakeable poise, and an infectious giggle. (I once read a theory that people who look like Muppets do best on television. Can’t you picture Elena Kagan singing “O is for Opinion” with Oscar the Grouch?)

    Kagan has been able, seemingly without trying, to dominate a room full of silver-haired senators. That’s an accomplishment, of course: but what’s more impressive is that she’s doing it without breaking a sweat.

  • Is unemployment insurance stimulative? (ResearchDesk)

    Mark Zandi of Moody’s comparison of the per-dollar impact of various stimulus policies.

    With that process, Zandi estimated that each dollar spent on extending unemployment benefits generated $1.61 in economic growth. Extending benefits had the third-greatest bang-for-the-buck of any component in the stimulus package, after increasing food stamps and subsidizing work-sharing, both temporary measures. To quote Zandi, “No form of the fiscal stimulus has proved more effective during the past two years than emergency UI benefits.”

  • Does inequality cause financial instability? (Krugman slides, Klein comments)

    Krugman says that he used to dismiss talk that inequality contributed to crises, but then we reached Great Depression-era levels of inequality in 2007 and promptly had a crisis, so now he takes it a bit more seriously.

    The problem, he says, is finding a mechanism. Krugman brings up underconsumption (wherein the working class borrows a lot of money because all the money is going to the rich) and overconsumption (in which the rich spend and that makes the next-most rich spend and so on, until everyone is spending too much to keep up with rich people whose incomes are growing much faster than everyone else’s).


  • Impact of North Korea’s currency devaluation (NYT)

    And then, one Saturday afternoon last November, his sister burst into his apartment in Chongjin with shocking news: the North Korean government had decided to drastically devalue the nation’s currency. The family’s life savings, about $1,560, had been reduced to about $30.

  • Life inside the North Korean bubble (BBC + video, 15 min, worth watching)

    Instead, the North Koreans have a special internal intranet which I was shown at Pyongyang University.

    A postgraduate metallurgy student who spoke good English explained that he could not compare his research with a fellow student in say, London or Los Angeles, because the system would not let him.

    But, he added brightly, “the Dear leader has kindly put all we need to know on our intranet system”.

    At the university’s foreign language department I asked the students how they had managed to learn such good English.

    “Thanks to the Great Leader,” one young man replied, “we are allowed to watch English and American films, like The Sound of Music.”

  • Female anti-rape condoms (cnn)
  • US Food Aid policies create 561 jobs in Kansas, risk millions of lives around the world

    I read recently the First Law of Policy Economics: Every inefficiency is someone’s income.

    Second, current US food aid policies are NOT an effective or efficient way for the US to achieve what should rightly be the primary objective for food aid. According to the government’s own accountability office, buying food locally in sub-Saharan Africa (which is where the majority of US food aid goes) costs 34 percent less than shipping it from the US, AND gets there on average more than 100 days more quickly, AND is more likely to be the kind of food people are used to eating. I am not arguing that cash aid is ALWAYS better than food aid, only that any reasonable food aid policy would allow aid agencies the flexibility to determine what kind of assistance works best in each situation.

  • Profile of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah (FP)

    Yet, despite the new levels of openness enjoyed by Saudi citizens, Abdullah is not leading the kingdom on the path to political liberalism. Just the opposite: While making small social and economic concessions, the king is in fact turning the clock back in Arabia, using his popularity to confront clergy and restore the kind of unchecked authority his family enjoyed in the 1970s.

  • One Laptop Per Child: Update from Rwanda

    The President wants to make Rwanda a technology and services hub — another tall order considering that just 7% of the country’s 11 million people currently have electricity. And that, curiously enough, is where the laptops come in. He and OLPC proponents hope the computers will both teach the students the language of technology and offer them a way to chase down simple information they lack but which kids in rich nations take for granted.

    the per-laptop price of $181 is also more than half the average Rwandan’s annual income. Skeptics of the OLPC program ask why Rwanda and other poor countries should spend so much money on the program’s specially designed XO laptops when teachers often earn less than $100 a month.

    Indeed, Rwanda’s poverty has thrown up some unexpected challenges to the OLPC vision. One of the program’s key principles is to involve children more in their own education by giving each of them their own laptop to take home each night. But for now, the two schools in Kigali that use the laptops keep them locked up after the school day. One problem has been that parents say that they do not want to be held responsible if the laptops are lost or stolen. Several students have sold their laptops to unscrupulous buyers for less than $10 — to the kids and their parents, still an enormous sum.

  • Parasites, Disease and Intelligence (Economist)

    They note that the brains of newly born children require 87% of those children’s metabolic energy. In five-year-olds the figure is still 44% and even in adults the brain—a mere 2% of the body’s weight—consumes about a quarter of the body’s energy. Any competition for this energy is likely to damage the brain’s development, and parasites and pathogens compete for it in several ways.


  • Who’s a scientist? 7th graders describe and draw scientists after a visit to Fermilab
  • Self Folding “Origami” Sheets (MIT/Harvard)
  • How what we touch affects our decision-making

    Weight is linked to importance, so that people carrying heavy objects deem interview candidates as more serious and social problems as more pressing. Texture is linked to difficulty and harshness. Touching rough sandpaper makes social interactions seem more adversarial, while smooth wood makes them seem friendlier. Finally, hardness is associated with rigidity and stability. When sitting on a hard chair, negotiators take tougher stances but if they sit on a soft one instead, they become more flexible.


  • Interview with Hephzibah Anderson, author of Chastened (theAtlantic)

    Hephzibah Anderson is an attractive, successful British journalist in her early 30s who enjoys a life of jet-setting between London, New York, and Paris. And after ringing in her 30th birthday, she swore off sex for a year.

    And I’m in no way advocating for the clock to be turned back, but I think that a lot of women know that they have the right to say no, but actually feeling like they have the right to say no in certain situations is a quite different thing.

  • 10 most important things they don’t teach you in school (cracked, humor)
  • Science: showing you why you didn’t get in to the club, since 2010. (Kellogg)
  • 14 long lost (thankfully) 90’s trends
  • Women, childbirth rates, and education
  • Gender-segregated classrooms

    Regardless of the mixed research, the interest in single-sex classrooms shows just how desperate teachers and administrators are to find a cure to the oft-lamented “problem with boys.” By just about every metric, boys are, and have been for perhaps a decade, lagging tremendously behind girls in terms of academic achievement. They consistently score lower GPAs, college-admissions rates, and fare worse in reading and writing. And it’s not just a problem for them; their scores aren’t helping the country’s plummeting academic ranking as compared to the rest of the developed world.

    The gender gap goes far beyond high school. Today, women make up nearly 60 percent of college students and they’re much more likely to go on to pursue advanced degrees.

  • The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

    Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

    It became known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect — our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.

  • Hummus catches on in the US (NYT)

    In 2000, Holy Land introduced hummus flecked with jalapeño. More recently, the company, which makes about 100,000 plastic tubs of hummus each month for the Midwest market, rolled out guacamole-flavored hummus. By August, its blend of hummus and peanut butter will hit the shelves. “That one is for my daughter, Noor,” Mr. Wadi said. “She didn’t think she liked hummus. Then we stirred in peanut butter.”

  • The high cost of kids (Tribune)

    The grand total for middle-income parents raising one child from birth to age 17 is $222,360, which doesn’t include college tuition, according to the recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2009 Expenditures on Children by Families report.

    “Annual child-rearing expense estimates ranged between $11,650 and $13,530 for a child in a two-child, married-couple family in the middle-income group,” the report’s abstract says.

  • Kobayashi retires (!)
  • Gail Dines: The implications of the modern-day ‘Pornland’

    Boys and men don’t realize the power they’re giving away to pornography. They don’t understand the power it has to shape who they are, their sexuality, and their sexual identity. In this culture, we think of pornography as a joke or something to laugh about. We don’t take it seriously as a source of information that has the ability and power to impact on the way we think about the world. Most boys and men go to pornography for an ejaculation; they come away with a lot more. I don’t think they’re quite aware of it.

    Pornography, like all images, tells stories about the world. It tells stories about women, men, sexuality, and intimacy.

  • James Sturm is quitting the internet
  • Rory Sutherland: Small solutions to big problems: “The impact of a solution is often inversely proportional to the money and effort to implement it.”


  • The origin of the word “soccer”

    Now British school boys of the day liked to nickname everything, which is still somewhat common. They also liked to add the ending “er” to these nicknames. Thus Rugby was, at that time, popularly called “Rugger”. Association Football was then much better known as “Assoccer”, which quickly just became “Soccer” and sometimes “Soccer Football”.

  • X-ray scans of toys (gallery)
  • FIFA World Cup in Pictures (Big Picture)
  • The geek hierarchy (pdf)
  • (Hockey) Fight School

    Tom segued into hockey fighting’s rules of engagement: 1. Never fight with your visor on. 2. Don’t antagonize only to back down. 3. Star players have immunity. 4. Enforcers only battle other enforcers. 5. No trash talk if you can avoid it.

  • Nation’s boyfriends dreadingfree event in the park‘ season (theOnion)
  • Bulwer-Lytton (aka bad fiction) prose contest

    The Winner:
    For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss–a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.

    Molly Ringle
    Seattle, WA

  • MC Escher in Lego
  • How Crayolas are made
    (pics, videos)
  • Fireworks display (photos)
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