Newslinks 2015-4-1

Fusion covers an insane story of DEA agents who were investigating Silk Road as stealing lots of Bitcoins for themselves after reneging on a job to kill for hire.

Kevin Spacey does an interview in which he claims Bill Clinton told him House of Cards is a very accurate portrayal of Washington politics. Spacey himself also has a very interesting personal history.

VC firms are looking to enter the food industry. I’m cautiously excited to see what they can disrupt as VC firms expand outside the tech world, although I remain skeptical there are big undiscovered changes to be made in markets like cars and food.

Brief history of the bomber jacket. It’s yet another example of military gear turning into fashion with the “cool factor” based on its historical associations.

CBS looks at some Duke scientists using polio to kill cancer. Makes sense, since the mechanisms of the polio virus allow it to enter specific cells, which means it could theoretically be tailored only to enter cancer cells and kill them to replicate itself.

WSJ does a short primer on the Greek debt crisis. It starts with the premise that nobody really knows when Greece will run out of money, since the Greeks have been pretty dishonest about counting their liquid assets and they could just start playing accounting fraud even if they don’t have the cash. Which we don’t know if they’re already doing that.

The Beard Ben Bernanke has started a blog, where he covers and rehashes some issues from when he was Fed chairman. It’s an interesting perspective from the man himself, and reaction to the blog has been mixed, which might show what a polarizing figure he was. Supporters say it shows his erudition about economics and his playbook, critics say it shows he’s still clueless about the “real” causes of our economic problems. Either way, there are only three posts and they’re all worth reading.

Pretty cool article on famed author Umberto Eco’s old paper “How to write a thesis”.

Wall Street banks decide they’ve had an assful of Elizabeth Warren and threaten to pull funding from Democrats if they don’t shut her up. Kind of a big dick move to see if Democrats will cave or if they’re serious with the populist stuff, I guess.

Reuters reports on a massive power outage in Turkey. The cause is still unknown. But Turkey also had a hostage crisis in which a Marxist group took a prosecutor hostage. Turkish police ended up storming the courthouse after reportedly hearing gunshots and killed two hostage-takers. They found the prosecutor was badly wounded and he later succumbed to his injuries.

Saving money on blood transfusions by preserving blood inside patients is a big step to cutting medical costs. The whole idea has only been around for 7 years and it’s gaining slow but steady acceptance.

Dietitians reverse decades of common knowledge and are now saying red meat is not the enemy. There is a fundamental shift towards making sugar and carbs in general to be the main enemy. Americans also eat too many calories in general.

Fish oil’s biggest claims are also not supported by subsequent research. It’s still possible but it shouldn’t be the third most popular supplement in the US (after multivitamins and vitamin C).

The deadline for an Iran deal is looming and negotiators are scrambling to finish up. NYT has a nice outline of where things stand. And since nobody can ever be happy about anything in the Middle East, Iranians say even if there is a deal, there will be no normalization of relations with the Great Satan.

Shia militias in Tikrit are back to fighting after receiving assurances that the US will stop airstrikes. It’s actually a relief for the Obama administration, which has strained to avoid the perception that it is working together with Iranian-armed militias in Iraq.

New Yorker does a nice on China’s Xi Jinping and his rise from a provincial leader out in the boonies to quietly instituting the toughest regime in China since Mao. He spent his formative years in the Cultural Revolution, joined the Communist Party and survived several purges of its ranks, and rose to the top of the leadership. He is definitely not soft.

A retired Air Force colonel and chief prosecutor at Gitmo says the camp is a charade of justice. Which has always been true, since Gitmo has served virtually from its inception as America’s trash can for unwanted legal problems. It held illegal immigrants and captured Latin American militants before it was used as a jail for terrorists. But it is still a disgrace that in its 14th year, the government still hasn’t sorted out the legal status of the inmates and it has a shockingly high acquittal rate of detainees (about 50%).

Former blogger Andrew Sullivan discusses why he quit blogging and the grueling pace he set for himself.

Newslinks 2015-3-27

Joseph Nye writes in the FT that America will survive the rise of China. His argument that Rome and Britain collapsed centuries after their rivals’ appearance is hardly a comfort.

Wikileaks leaks out a portion of TPP negotiations, riling liberals with the idea of a supranational court where multinational corporations can challenge local regulations.

New Yorker cheers the rise in economic data as an Obama victory.

Blackberry had a brutal fall in revenue, more than a third of a loss year over year to $660 million in Q4. At its zenith in 2011, Blackberry posted quarterly revenue of $5.6 billion. But for a silver lining, they were actually still profitable. Wow.

Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) drops a stunner and says he won’t seek reelection in 2016. He was involved in a really bad bicycle accident over New Year’s and apparently it still hurts. He was likely in for a bare-knuckle brawl in the 2016 election after a series of big setbacks for him in the Democratic leadership, but it’s still a surprise because you don’t win 5 Senate elections and rise to party leadership by not knowing how to play the game. I would doubt he’ll retire completely – I imagine he’ll throw his weight behind Hillary Clinton or whoever else might win the nomination and see where he lands in the White House cabinet.

Germanwings investigation turns up information that the co-pilot was mental illnesses.

NYT op-ed asks: how poor are the poor? Less poor than before but still quite poor. It depends on how much you think we live in a culture of envy and unfairness with the fact that inequality is as big as it’s ever been.

Slate says America’s medical problems are really caused by hospitals. Serves as a de facto screed against capitalism and M&A in the health care industry, but makes some solid points that hospitals haven’t reduced their prices even with reductions in uninsured patients, which was nominally the reason they used to charge so much.

NYT op-ed also says the army shouldn’t prosecute Bowe Bergdahl, arguing he suffered in Taliban custody and that should be punishment enough. It contrasts with the fact that the army devoted precious resources to searching for him, with many saying soldiers were killed during search missions, and that the army has a keen interest in sending the message that it will do whatever it can to recover lost soldiers but it will still hold them accountable for breaking rules.

Senate Armed Services Committee sent this letter to SecDef Carter and SecState Kerry regarding Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. It goes with a now-common theme that the Obama administration is hesitant to pick new fights while Congress wants them to be more aggressive. I’m about to list a whole bunch of other problems and after the PR debacle with the AIIB, the last thing the administration probably wants is a more direct confrontation with China.

Yemen’s leader has fled the country as Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign picks up steam. Buzzfeed has a good primer on the Houthi rebels. Stratfor has a primer on the stakes involved, including the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Pakistan’s army begins a new offensive in Tirah Valley, with reports that dozens of fighters on both sides have already been killed. This campaign is significant because Pakistan claims it is using home-grown drones in conjunction with its operation.

Russia and China want to restart six-party talks with North Korea, six years after the Bush White House walked away. The Obama administration has continued to make it a point to ignore North Korea and refuse to negotiate at any significant level. But Seoul has indicated that it is willing to talk. The administration might make it a point to ignore Seoul after it just signed on officially to the AIIB, even though it was widely expected.

WaPo reports that the head of the CIA counterterrorism center is being pushed out as part of a leadership reshuffling. His position is so shadowy that WaPo withholds his name, call him the man with the Smoking Man from the X-Files. It’s apparently a big and dramatic change for the agency, but we’ll see what this means for American strategy.

And Vice asks at what point does a band’s name become so offensive that it should be changed. People are NOT happy with the names Viet Cong and Black Pussy. To its credit, the band Viet Cong did apologize after receiving heart-breaking letters from Vietnamese Americans explaining their terrible suffering at the hands of the real life Viet Cong, admitting they knew very little about the war and especially its effects for the Vietnamese people. Black Pussy has been…less receptive. Here’s another article, starting with the eyebrow-raising premise of a band of two white guys that call themselves Slaves. I like the story of the group calling themselves Christian AIDS being kind of relieved when the British charity organization Christian Aid issued a cease and desist letter, giving them a reasonable excuse to change their name when they had already become ashamed of it.

Newslinks 2015-3-24

Origin story for WWE star John Cena’s entrance music. I hope they do a lot more of these because it’s awesome.

In a chuckle moment of poetic justice, fictional mogul Lucius Lyon screwed over real life star Madonna, as Empire’s soundtrack outsold Madonna’s latest album. It does highlight an issue with album-oriented artists like Madonna, who probably should move on to the contemporary trend of selling singles digitally, although it is a far less profitable way to make music. Empire happened to pull it off because it is a soundtrack of all the songs on a hit TV show (about making music, no less) as opposed to a typical album.

American Apparel tries to pull back from a strategy of hypersexualized advertising to quality clothes. Good luck.

Adidas is trying to get its cool back and get back into the race against Nike and Under Armour. They need prayer.

Xinhua has some not so nice things to say about the US reaction to AIIB. The Chinese are the best geopolitical trolls and they prove it with this state editorial.

Japan backs out of AIIB, saying it can’t decide before the deadline in one week (end of March). Japan wants to see the Chinese prove their sincerity by having the AIIB work in conjunction with the Asian Development Bank and World Bank, not in competition or against them. It’s not obvious at all that the AIIB will function that way even with other G8 countries as founding members.

WSJ op-ed wants baseball to forgive Pete Rose.

China has put a lot of money into Europe very quickly.

Talk about a tech bubble are reaching bubble levels themselves. Today, it’s hedge funds’ fault this is happening.

How much money does it take to be median in big cities around the US?

Breast milk becomes a commodity and it raises age-old questions about wet nurses and exploitation, along with more mundane medical questions of safety and cost.

Angelina Jolie reports anecdotally that she has had her ovaries and Fallopian tubes surgically extracted as part of her ongoing fight to prevent cancer. For a woman who doesn’t have cancer, she’s fighting it tooth and nail like she does. And the biggest lesson from her story is the same as Tyrion Lannister’s message about being a dwarf – if you’re going to consult a variety of doctors and convince them to cut out what by all accounts is healthy tissue, it’s better to be rich.

A German airliner from a budget airline crashed in the French Alps. Details are too sketchy at this point to say more, but authorities are not expecting survivors.

Thailand has cholo tribute gangs. They pull off the Mexican gangbanger look surprisingly well.

China used more cement in the last three years than the US did in the 20th century. Mind-blowing statistic at first glance but less surprising if you think about it. Chinese are just now urbanizing, with 20 million people moving to cities in each of those years. In contrast to the US building houses mostly out of wood, the Chinese have been building high-rise apartments mostly out of concrete. Also worth noting that at least a third of Chinese cement would be deemed too low-grade for construction in the US, so (lack of) safety standards might be the most unexpected contributor.

Medium does some impressive intellectual yoga to justify Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. It would be curious to know how many people in government still keep journals and personal notes. I have a hard time believing she’s “too busy” to do so.

Japan decides to build a massive seawall to protect the coast from future tsunamis. Critics say Japan needs to train citizens to evacuate to higher ground faster. You could have the emergency response debate if you want, but this is the best pork project in years and the unions weren’t going to let anyone pass on it.

Newslinks 2015-3-22

A fascinating article about luck. I liked its context in Western culture and the way it outlines the paradoxes of luck.

There’s one place where wearable tech seems to have a bright future and a clear, lucrative purpose: Disneyland. Also an interesting nod to data science being used to enhance the park experience.

The Atlantic writes a screed against the Alcoholics Anonymous system, calling it irrational, quackery, and at various times, either non-science, pseudo-science, or even anti-science. Falls back to the argument of “Scandinavians do it better” and ends bizarrely cheerleading for Obamacare as a leader for science-based medicine.

This VoxEU paper asks if we should start publicly shaming delinquent taxpayers. It nervously implies they aren’t talking about dudes wearing brown shirts with black armbands beating people up shouting NEIN. But, you know, people didn’t cheat on their taxes to the Nazis.

Speaking of Nazis, Der Spiegel actually ran this front page and thought people would find it funny:
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It’s sailing into the Greek trolling that Germany is a European hegemon and basically the new Nazis. Germans understand the bitter sentiment, but it sparked outrage nonetheless.

Reuters says Australia is signaling it will join the Chinese-based AIIB and Japan is ambivalent but will join if they think the Chinese would ever lend them money in a pinch. Japan doesn’t want to be left out of the party but this is hot potato, the last big US ally to join gets their name splashed on the NYT front page and all the outrage. Which at this point is probably Mexico.

How has Venezuela lasted this long? They’ve been taking money from China. Another $10 billion should keep them going through 2015, mismanagement and all.

Nature says myopia is reaching astonishing levels in East Asia, upwards of 95%. Researchers think it might be books and smartphones and the way kids are looking at them longer than ever. Take it with a grain of salt, all sorts of crazy claims for myopia have been bouncing around.

The UK maps out genetic identities to view historical migrations. It’s hugely interesting but probably will only work in a country that accepts its long history of migration and multiculturalism like the UK. Japan would probably view such work very cautiously for long-standing fears that they may indeed owe a large part of their heritage to Korea, and only publish it if there’s a huge sigh of relief that they don’t.

Vice has an interesting piece on Graphene City and on the material’s future.

Pando does a piece on famed hacker Guccifer reading Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. If you believe him, famous people are pretty dumb and write insane e-mails to each other.

Can hip hop be part of the education about the plight of being a black American? I think this is nonsense but it’s an interesting thing to think about. Maybe I’m just not ready to shake my stereotypes and embrace change like this article says.

FT says a new study links a Monsanto-produced herbicide glyphosate to cancer. The evidence is pretty flimsy for now, especially in light of responses like “the dose makes the poison”, but it could be big if the link gets stronger with more research.

Student debt programs are hampered by poor data collection. It’s the kind of worrisome question where you wonder if you want the government and thus debt companies to get better data. It gives them more power to help but it also gives them more power to hurt.

Iran negotiations hit some snags. Nobody can agree on the details of Iran’s centrifuges and the timing of when sanctions will end. So…pretty much, same as always. Interestingly, there have been reports where the Iranian leadership seemed optimistic about a deal, although European leaders seem increasingly pessimistic.

You can read a mostly unredacted version of the NIE that justified the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. The intelligence community seemed far more uncertain of its findings than the Bush administration led the public to believe, which shouldn’t be a surprise because anti-war activists have been screaming about this for more than a decade.

On the other side of history, it seems the Obama administration pressured Germany to keep Snowden out by threatening to withhold warnings about terrorist threats if they granted him asylum.

Newslinks 2015-3-15

Why America fell out of love with golf. No more Tiger Woods and a hit at America’s increasing ADHD, along with traditional reasons like golf is expensive to play, very frustrating, and boring.

McDonald’s is doing some soul-searching
. It has been very bad for business to chase healthy or higher-end parts of the restaurant market. But is retreating back to cheap and dirty but delicious food going to help?

Old but good article on the anthropological debates surrounding the Japanese ethnicity.

The rise of luxury toilet paper.

China does the ultimate troll by getting into religion and claiming the Communist Party controls the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. It’s the Chinese equivalent to Marine drill sergeants screaming that recruits are not allowed to die without permission.

Europe but especially Britain’s shrinking military clout has the US worried and upset. It appears our allies’ response to Obama’s attempts to spread out the load has been to gut and weaken their own militaries so that the Pentagon won’t want to use them. It harkens to other news report that the German Luftwaffe is a joke now, an embarrassment.

Scientific article on plagiarism from the perpetrator’s perspective. They don’t seem to think it’s as wrong as they should, or they don’t care.

McClatchy says it’s getting harder to file and win FOIA requests for government documents. In the war for information, government agencies have learned how to broaden trade secrets to justify blacking out material information and the things they need to say to stall until the news cycle turns over and people stop caring. Or they can charge the individual exorbitant prices to discourage them from a search that both sides know is unlikely to yield useful information.

Venezuela conducts military exercises, citing the threat of the US. Protesters should probably be most afraid because these soldiers are MUCH more likely to be shooting at them than at American soldiers.

Q&A from TechCrunch and a congresswoman from Massachusetts who is taking on GamerGate. She wants the FBI and DOJ to intensify efforts to prosecute harassment against women online. I’m mildly nervous about this because I see the slippery slope three steps from now where the officials broaden harassment to silence critics and chill free speech. She does quote big and scary numbers for harassment levels though and certainly people exist who are way over the line.

NY Post sends a woman undercover to snag an ISIS boyfriend and find out what they’re like. They’re douchebags, arrogant, and liars. Basically what you’d expect from someone who thinks it’s a good thing to behead people on video.

In retrospect, Daria was kind of a jerk.

Vanity Fair does a big piece on how harsh interrogation methods were reverse-engineered from American training on how to resist torture by Communists. But it’s really a tragedy of the feedback that the psychologists were encouraged to say the methods worked with promises of funding and how that perpetuated and magnified as it spread through the government.

A software engineer writes what he’s learned after 12 years.

Sports gambling is no different from the stock market. A quasi-editorial asking for legalized gambling in the US.

A profile in the Guardian of Doug Lemov, a titan in the world of education. They hype him up as changing education but I think that’s overstating it. He’s to teaching what Zig Ziglar is to sales or Dale Carnegie is to networking. He’s THE guy you go to read because he says it best but nothing he says is revolutionary.

How Apple keeps its projects under wraps. They don’t build huge barges in the San Francisco Bay.