Newslinks 2015-4-28

Club owners frequently make musicians play for free and it’s probably not legal. I don’t think going through the IRS and tax wage laws is the best place to start pressuring them though.

NPR asks the important questions: why do we hate Nickelback so much? Overexposure and let’s be honest, we don’t hate the band or its music so much as the kind of people who really like Nickelback.

Big Data tries to keep on rolling, claiming we can find fashion trends through Google searches. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just ask companies that sell clothes what people want to buy. It smacks of Big Data trying to be a little too clever.

What kind of guy rocks a man bag? The harder question seems to be finding a palatable and non-judgmental word for it.

Related to that article, what are the new status symbols for the rich? Basically something with a story and talking points – famous art pieces, vintage cars, bespoke suits, etc.

Read this sob story of a billionaire whose private equity firm grew too fast. You know you’ve got First World problems when you’re weeping about hurting your knee jumping out of a helicopter on a skiing adventure.

Japan has managed to very quietly muzzle the media and chill criticisms of government policies. The media had rarely challenged the government anyways, but I guess you can never have too much cooperation from the Fourth Estate.

Latest inequality talking point focuses in on Finland’s progressive income-based fine system. Only at the very end does it point out that judges have a lot of leeway to reduce fines and it seems to work often for the rich to appeal penalties, meaning the big fines look good on paper but may work differently in practice.

President Obama does some public hand-wringing on drone errors. But very little will change in real terms because the White House has no intention of sending in ground troops and risking headlines about American casualties.

NYT obtained a report on Stellarwind, an NSA program that was being questioned by officials for its dubious results. Serves as a dump on President Bush, implying he started these programs and President Obama put a stop to the most abusive ones. I don’t think it can be repeated or emphasized enough that we only know about these things because of Edward Snowden, not because the White House wanted to do the right thing.

Syrian rebels have made surges in gains over the last couple weeks, weakening the Assad regime. It refocuses attention on the war and whether we can avoid an outcome of total chaos, increased Iranian influence, or an ISIS takeover.

Office space overtakes talented people as the limiting factor in Silicon Valley.

Educators say coding is the key to the future of education. If you believe typical complaints, our kids already suck at reading, math, science, and history. Why not add more core subjects?

And an even more typical education complaint: go to another country and declare they’re succeeding where America is failing, in this case China. It’s a battle of whether to call it “chalk and talk” or “drill and kill”. Also serves as an invective against modern trends in incorporating emotional needs and encouragement. There’s an incredible photo of a Chinese exam room that looks like it has to be photo-shopped.

Newslinks 2015-4-26

Russian hackers have read Obama’s e-mails. The White House insists they did not get into classified areas or get anything important, but it’s still worrying because the president is the holiest of holies.

The White House also says there won’t be a trade deal on the TPP before Japanese PM Shinzo Abe comes to Washington. They’re close but there is still no agreement on the most contentious industries, cars and agriculture.

Which country has the quickest casual runners, according to marathon data? Europeans are the quickest and Asians are the slowest, although note that the data was only pulled from European and American marathons, which might bias the data.

Refrigerator companies are trying to make them smarter so people throw out less food.

Reuters has an interesting article on how US banks co-opted the regulatory regime.

Human traffickers in North Africa are advertising their services on Facebook. There have been a few high-profile accidents lately in which migrants have died as well as being an exploitative illegal immigration issue, so European countries want to crack down.

NBC took a closer look and says it has found 11 instances in which Brian Williams embellished stories. They don’t say how big the whoppers were.

There was a monster 7.8 earthquake that hit Nepal this morning. WaPo has maps of the affected areas. Initial reports put the death toll above 1500.

Continuing the theme of exasperation giving way to resignation, some European officials say they’re considering their options for a Plan B of a Greek default. The hard part is a Greek default in which they’re still stuck with the euro and eventually still pay back all the bailout money, which seems contradictory to the whole reason behind a default.

While the world celebrates tech, Japanese design is going in the opposite direction towards more tactile and elegantly simple products made from traditional materials like wood, ceramics, or cloth.

Scotch is losing its age. Turns out taste is more important.

Newslinks 2015-4-25

The world’s languages in charts. Nothing too surprising but interesting nonetheless.

WaPo blogger says Adam Sandler is an awful hack and it’s all our fault he’s so popular because we keep watching his movies.

Medium looks at scenarios and options for Greece.

Having won its fight against gender discrimination, Kleiner Perkins is now seeking a million bucks from Ellen Pao for legal fees.

A bizarre story out of Japan as someone landed a drone with radioactive material on the prime minister’s house. Too bad the perpetrator wasn’t smart enough to check Abe’s itinerary – he’s at an Asian summit in Indonesia and he’s heading to Washington afterwards for his big speech next week. Japan Times reports a man from Fukui turned himself in to police, saying he did it to protest Abe’s plans to restart nuclear power plants.

Step aside, reality TV stars, it’s the age of Youtubers.

Medium covers the latest gripe about modern society that people are too disjointed and polarized and ADD-afflicted to read books. Personally, I think it’s just a phase of life – I also had several years in my 20s after college where I read very few books. Now I’m reading more than ever and far from being a distraction, the internet has made it easier than ever to find and get books, even (especially?) those that differ from my opinions, tastes, or perspectives.

Dr Oz is facing a mounting rise and shrillness of criticism about his show. There is an interesting question of whether he’s an entertainer or a doctor while he’s on TV and whether viewers are being deceived when they think of him as one or the other.

The history of the sports bra.

The Guardian asks why there are so few black British pop stars. British musicians are having a golden age, between the likes of Sam Smith, Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Jessie J. The Guardian sort of speculates an implicit racism, that white singers are considered phenomenal when they sing like black people but black talent is going unrecognized because it’s “normal”, which I find unpersuasive and very hard to believe.

The “I’m Too Sexy” guys are 9/11 truthers and have a lot of interesting opinions on Twitter.

Out: Helicopter moms. In: Drone dads.

US and Saudi naval warships faced off against an Iranian supply convoy apparently bound for Yemen to provide aid to the Houthi rebels. US defense officials say the Iranians have turned around but wouldn’t say at what heading or where they went.

The Obama administration is in a strange quandary with drones. Following yesterday’s revelation about a drone strike killing hostages, the WSJ reports that the drone strike rules will be reviewed and may transfer major control from the CIA to the DoD. At the same time, under pressure to do more to help the Iraqis against ISIS, the NYT reports Iraqis may be trained to spot for strikes, with obvious concerns that the Iraqis may misidentify targets.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter reported yesterday that Russian hackers had broken into the Pentagon network earlier this year. They were discovered and booted within 24 hours, but it raises concerns about whether they were working for the Russian government, in light of a string of breaches of government networks by Russian hackers.

Newslinks 2015-4-24

A crazy medical story of an Indian PhD student who had a brain tumor extracted that contained teeth, bone, and hair. Doctors speculate it was her twin, not a cancerous lump, although this is so rare that they’re barely aware that this even occurs, much less how or why.

The White House announced today that two hostages, an American and an Italian, were killed in January by a drone strike on a compound that the CIA had said only had Al Qaeda fighters. Another American who had joined Al Qaeda was also killed in the strike. President Obama says the strike was conducted within the strict guidelines set by the administration, but interestingly the White House also said Obama did not personally approve the strike, counterterrorism officials with authority did.

WSJ is reporting that US surveillance programs are being scaled back. Details are sparse.

The House passed a cybersecurity bill aimed at voluntary exchanges of information between private companies and the government. It looks like some of the scandals this year have goosed Congress into making a deal, while the repercussions such as Target firing its CEO has dropped industry resistance just enough to convert some representatives.

The Pentagon is planning to open a Silicon Valley office, providing money and tapping into the talent to push some tech projects.

China is warning that North Korea presents a much larger threat than the US thinks. They shared information with US officials that North Korea may have 20 nuclear warheads and the capacity to have 40 next year. US officials estimate North Korea currently has 12 warheads and the capacity to have 20 next year. To the very limited extent that China had ever shared information, they had been dismissive of North Korea, so it’s extra surprising to see the high Chinese estimates.

WaPo has a pretty chart showing the lifestyles of famous artists in history.

RL Stine is still writing and has no intention of quitting.

What can strippers teach Uber? Pimpin’ ain’t easy.

Joe Paterno’s family is trying to revive his legacy. All he did was cover for a child molester in his own staff. It shouldn’t tarnish and ruin a legacy of over 60 years of coaching college football…should it?

Kesha is trying to make a comeback. You know she’s down on her luck when nobody is calling her Ke$ha any more.

The Telegraph has an interesting article on how porn has changed the landscape of adolescence. It’s not longer “how are babies made?”, which is now way too obvious.

Newslinks 2015-4-22

Despicable Me’s minions become so ubiquitous that they get their own color.

It’s okay to talk about Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. It’s true that the media is far more likely to comment on a woman’s clothes than a man’s (e.g. Michelle Obama), but I’d also say this in response to the implicit sexism – if we’re talking about a man’s clothes, he did something terribly wrong.

China is inundated with fake beauty products. Even the products marked “real”. The insidious next step is mixing fakes with genuine products, which appears to be happening already.

Sony defeats a composer who claims the Iron Man theme was sampled from his music. Warning to musicians – if you sell out, you don’t get paid again when the music blows up.

And it’s Christmas in April for Sony, which also TRIPLES its income forecasts for 2015.

Movie soundtracks are back in a big way. It appears movie studios have realized picking music that is actually good and marrying it to emotional scenes is good for selling music.

Humorous article where you only need the headline: Justin Bieber Is The Physical Manifestation Of Floyd Mayweather’s Overconfidence. You could do worse than having a kid with adoring Beliebers as the avatar of your confidence.

Hot off yesterday’s news that TPP negotiations seem to be close to a deal, Democrats are becoming more vocal and public about their opposition. It puts Hillary Clinton in an interesting political position on whether she should gain party support by standing with Senate Democrats or maybe pander more widely by siding with Obama. Bringing up Clinton seems to only make unions and liberal groups upset all over again about NAFTA.

106 members of Japan’s legislature visited Yasukuni shrine to pay their respects to Japan’s war dead. It is election season in Japan and doing this seems to shore up support among Japanese right-wingers, who derive extra satisfaction from riling Korean and Chinese officials.

Newslinks 2015-4-21

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does an interview with the WSJ, saying a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal is close at hand.

Buzzfeed has a bizarre history of how Steven Seagal was chosen as a neutral envoy between Russia and the US.

NYT has a feature with crazy statistics about the gender gap among black Americans. Too many black men are incarcerated or dying young, they say.

Prosecutors have arrested a British trader named Navinder Sarao on charges that he caused the infamous “flash crash” in 2010. No fat fingers here.

Verizon wants to unbundle TV packages and make them more customizable. Media conglomerates controlling many of those channels don’t like this.

The head of the DEA will step down amid the scandal about sex parties among agents. A significant number of cases of taxpayer-funded parties with prostitutes, both abroad and at home, were found in the time period 2009-2012.

The US beefs up its naval presence around Yemen. There’s a funny dance going on in the region as the US is trying to cooperate with Iran against ISIS and trying to negotiate a nuclear deal, but it is actively fighting Iranian interests in Syria and Yemen.

Der Spiegel has a feature on the surprisingly sophisticated structure of ISIS.

Syrian fighters are being trained in Turkey, even as Turkey and the US disagree about their core mission. The US wants them to only fight ISIS, while Turkey wants them to help take down the Assad regime.

In the meantime, Turkey is also breaking from NATO and trying to be more self-sufficient on defense. It’s a regional trend and Turkey seems to feel more alienated from the West than usual.

Agonizing WaPo op-ed on the struggles with a mentally ill child.

Western countries plan to do the bare minimum to help Russia commemorate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of Nazi Germany. Following their own brand of global politics on WWII commemorations, China is enthusiastic about such celebrations.

A 93 year old former bookkeeper at Auschwitz has pleaded “morally guilty” to being part of the Holocaust. Prior cases against him were dropped because he is not linked directly to killing any prisoners, he simply collected belongings and sorted prisoners for hard labor or the gas chambers. He applied three times to leave the camp, which he attributes to having deep misgivings and dislike for the work there. It would be best for everyone if he died soon, saving Germany the trouble of deciding how to punish him.

An Israeli historian is indignant about a careless phrase from FBI director Comey about Polish collaborators in the Holocaust, which seemed to imply some equivalence between the Nazis and Poles. Polish historians have recently admitted that a much higher number of Poles helped to participate in the Holocaust than had been acknowledged, although the author argues this complicity should not mean Poles are lumped in with the Germans when we talk about the evils of the Holocaust. A darkly humorous point is if you have lump someone in, bring up Austria.

A Chinese mobile phone app lets you hire thugs to beat people up. It’s Uber for henchmen.

Newslinks 2015-4-20

FT op-ed tries to argue that Greece can default but stay in the eurozone. But the IMF letting Greece off the hook sets a dangerous precedent and will inevitably bring cries of bias from other countries that faced similarly dire situations but received no mercy.

Jon Stewart speaks to the Guardian about why he quit the Daily Show. Pretty much it’s too much pressure and too much stress to watch news channels and mine for bits to flip into satire.

WaPo op-ed says Google has messed up the postmodern office with its open spaces and lack of walls. Doubles as an argument for working from home, which makes it pretty disingenuous to complain about workplace design at all.

FBI and DOJ admit they’ve been routinely overstating forensic matches for decades. More than anything else, this puts hair analysis in the same pseudoscience dustbin as polygraph tests and handwriting analysis.

Japanese head of the Asian Development Bank points out the obvious that the Chinese led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has yet to do anything, so claims of China’s newfound clout are overstated. When the AIIB funds successful projects and builds their own models of sustainable development, then we can talk about the Chinese as global players.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is up and running, and in today’s environment, that means the cheap shots, insults, and rotten tomatoes are being hurled at her to welcome her to the 2016 election. This book questions foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and the way the Clintons may have used their influence to give them favors in exchange.

AP covers some horror stories for migrants fleeing to Europe.

Jon Corzine is apparently trying to start up another hedge fund. His last fund exploded and it took two years to find $1.6 billion in missing funds, and Corzine’s best excuse is that he was never charged with a crime. It’s crony capitalism at its very finest and Corzine should be the poster child for everything we’re supposed to hate about the rich.

Newslinks 2015-4-19

WSJ has an interesting article on the different attitude in Japan about buying houses. Where it is seen as an investment in the US, it is considered a consumer good in Japan.

WaPo article on the scars that veterans bring home to their families. I marvel at this trend about caring for former soldiers. It wasn’t so long ago that people would shun such veterans and call them cowards or weaklings for bringing their anxieties of war back home.

A female employee at the Dutch central bank was fired after outing herself for having a side job as a dominatrix. Amusingly, her real lack of integrity isn’t just the prostitution, it’s that she didn’t pay taxes on that income and might have violated zoning laws. But cue those BDSM austerity jokes.

A great blog post on Turkish economic myths.

Ben Bernanke follows up his blog with a hedge fund gig.

The Guardian takes on the coal industry.

The SEC is taking a look at the way LA schools used bond money to pay for iPads-for-students programs. Crony capitalism, corporatist exploitation, and government incompetence mated in this horribly misconceived program. Something for everyone!

The FDA cracks down on candy bars marketed as healthy. Turns out, there’s a fairly narrow definition for “healthy foods”, such as having less than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving.

Wikileaks has a database of the hacked Sony e-mails, if you want to get your inner voyeur on.

ISIS mounts an assault on the Iraqi city of Ramadi. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is pessimistic Iraqi forces can hold the city but says it’s not important.

Politico has an article that ISIS is dominating the headlines but Al Qaeda is quietly making a big comeback too.

In the meantime, Iraq’s prime minister criticized Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen, but backpedaled a day later. It’s worth noting that Iraq needs Iranian support in their fight against ISIS and they would suffer most if these campaigns mix into a broad sectarian clash.

Similarly, Syrian rebels seem to have shifted to fighting ISIS instead of Assad. Better the devil you know, say some insurgents.

Retired admiral Mike Mullen wrote a Politico op-ed that the Iranian nuclear deal is far from ideal but is America’s best chance at limiting Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb.

On the other hand, Iran is increasing the frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks.

The Intercept has a piece on Germany as the heart of America’s drone war.

Startup culture is budding in Japan.

Fast and Furious 7 is the fastest movie ever to hit $1 billion, doing it in 17 days, as opposed to the three-way tie at 19 days for Avengers, Avatar, and Harry Potter 7-2. And they didn’t even use the Nos of 3D ticket prices. It’s astonishing how far this franchise has come.

Op-ed in the Blaze that fast food workers don’t deserve $15 an hour. Perhaps not, but McDonald’s CEO doesn’t deserve $3 million either.

Daily Mail’s inspirational horror story of the day as a man brings a katana to a gun fight and wins, defending his home against would-be thieves in Argentina. The thieves were all caught because they went to the hospital with vicious wounds and the DM doesn’t flinch from showing the pictures (which is a warning). The katana maintains its fearsome reputation.

Bloomberg heaps more dirt on law schools.

Newslinks 2015-4-17

BYU students crash a re-accreditation hearing and complain about the way the school’s honor code clashes with their religious beliefs. They claim the honor code is designed so that students can only convert to Mormonism while facing severe penalties if they try to change to any other belief.

Iran publishes its own fact sheet about the nuclear deal, which seems to differ substantially from the one presented by the White House. Probably not a good place to start fresh negotiations, scheduled for April 21.

Ranking the world’s most powerful passports, defined as passports that require the least advance visas or have the fewest problems purchasing visas. The ranking puts the U.S. and U.K. passports first, giving access to 147 countries without an advanced visa. France, South Korea and Germany are second, with access to 145 countries.

South Korea makes its official request to join the TPP but is stoned by Washington, where the Obama administration is struggling to negotiate the terms with Japan and it’s far from obvious they can get it through Congress, especially since Obama faces the odd situation that Democrats are the most opposed.

Guardian reports on the science behind cracking your knuckles. On MRI, it looks like gas-filled bubbles are formed when the joints are separated in the synovial fluid, with the pop being the bubbles bursting.

The MCAT (medical school entrance exam) gets a huge revision. The test is longer (4 hrs to 7.5 hrs), broader (critical thinking and statistical reasoning sections were added), and the scoring rubric has changed fundamentally, theoretically allowing schools to have a more customizable range of selective measures to find students.

An interview with a senior at fashion school at Parsons. It’s pretty much college life – students are exhausted and say they’ve been overworked, but the hard partying and procrastination is their own damn fault.

Putin declares that Russia can take the sanctions. He comes just short of telling reporters to punch him in the stomach to prove it.

IMF official warns of a “super taper tantrum” when the Fed raises interest rates. This follows the growing clamor of economists who want the Fed to not raise interest rates.

And probably not a good sign, but the Greeks asked the IMF to delay scheduled repayments in May. The IMF denied them, staying strong in solidarity with the EU on the urgency of getting the Greeks to take debt negotiations seriously.

Japan overtakes China as the biggest holder of US Treasuries. Japanese investors have been bringing money to the US while the Chinese have quietly been shedding Treasuries. The Japanese pension system in particular is in search of the highest yields for risk-free assets and US Treasuries have a much more attractive yield at the moment than Japanese bonds.

A nice WSJ feature on how 1 year old babies figure out the world. Basically a lot of trial and error and experimentation.

Newslink 2015-4-16

NBC mulls whether Brian Williams has any realistic chance of coming back after his six-month suspension is up in August, and what that means for the guy who’s been subbing in the whole time. Short answer: no.

EU files antitrust charges against Google. The 2.4 billion euros that Greece needs next month sounds like a good amount.

More companies are using personality tests to screen applicants. Discrimination for the 21st century to find docile, pleasant employees who are unlikely to blow whistles or sue. Or even realize there’s accounting fraud staring them in the face every day in all those papers they’re filing away.

China’s growth slows to 7%, its slowest since the Great Recession. So slow that India may overtake. Chinese authorities have been trying to cushion the blow by developing the domestic consumer economy.

Congress reached a compromise deal on Iran negotiations, giving them some influence over the final outcome. The bill was watered down and gave Obama the biggest card, which is the initiative to end sanctions by making it very difficult for Congress to re-impose them.

Men sitting down on the toilet to pee is a thing. I’ve heard the statistics in Japan that nearly half of men now sit down to pee.

Hidden cameras show baggage handlers stealing expensive items from luggage. Cash, electronics, jewelry, and luxury bags are special targets. I was naive enough to believe those TSA tags meant they went through my bag for security purposes, but I guess nobody really wants to look for bombs and knives.

Repetition in musical form changes the way we hear it and it turns out humans like it for its familiarity, predictability, and the feeling of participation.

On being too smart for your own good. It’s the IQ equivalent to the paradox that money makes people more unhappy above a certain point because they only focus on people richer than them.

A eulogy for Justified, which aired its final episode last night. It was a show carried by a small but devoted fan base and largely overshadowed in the mainstream by bigger shows. It joins the Wire and Arrested Development in the club.

The Shade Room is described as Instagram’s TMZ. Okay.