Weekly Roundup 181: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web!

Weekly Cartoon(s):

The Citizen'(s) Corner (Issues to Get Your Blood Boiling)

Widspread melting of Greenland ice sheet via ihrrblog.org – While there have been a range of hazards affecting different parts of the world this summer including forest fires and heat waves in the US, forest fires in Northern Catalonia (Spain) and France, along with flooding and landslides across a number of different countries including the UK, the Greenland ice sheet has recently underwent some serious surface melting, the most observed in three decades of satellite observations according to the NASA Earth Observatory. Their satellites on 8 July first showed 40 percent of the ice sheet thawing at or near the surface and by 12 July the melting ‘spread dramatically beyond the norm’. Now the fact that the Greenland ice sheet is melting in the summer time is hardly news, but melting in July has been extreme coinciding with the presence of a ridge of unusually warm air creating a ‘heat dome’ over Greenland.

Pension Pulse: America’s 401(k) Nightmare?via pensionpulse.blogspot.com – Defaults on 401(k) loans are draining retirement savings by as much as $37 billion a year, according to a study conducted by Robert Litan, a researcher at the Brookings Institution and Hal Singer, managing director of financial analysis firm Navigant Economics.

Al Saud Relies on Torture To Run Societyvia Press Tv – “There is nothing new about the actions of the regime. It has always relied heavily on torture and abuse and also using a heavy-handed approach against those who demand change and ask for their basic human rights,” said Zayd al-Isa, Middle East expert from London, in an interview with Press TV on Sunday.

Jonathan Foley: The other inconvenient truthvia Video on TED.com – A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin “terraculture” — farming for the whole planet.

Neil Barofsky’s Journey Into a Bailout Buzz Saw via NYTimes.com – His story is illuminating, if deeply depressing. We tag along with Mr. Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor, as he walks into a political buzz saw as the special inspector general for TARP. Government officials, he says, eagerly served Wall Street interests at the public’s expense, and regulators were captured by the very industry they were supposed to be regulating. He says he was warned about being too aggressive in his work, lest he jeopardize his future career.

Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Wivesvia www.texasmonthly.com – In 2011 the Legislature slashed family planning funds, passed a new sonogram law, and waged an all-out war on Planned Parenthood that has dramatically shifted the state’s public health priorities. In the eighteen months since then, the conflict has continued to simmer in the courts, on the campaign trail, and in at least one PR disaster. Meanwhile, what will happen to Texas women—and their fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands—remains very much unclear.

The Great Charter, Its Fate, and Oursvia TomDispatch – That should be a matter of serious immediate concern. What we do right now, or fail to do, will determine what kind of world will greet that event. It is not an attractive prospect if present tendencies persist — not least, because the Great Charter is being shredded before our eyes.

How the Elites Built America’s Economic Wallvia Bloomberg – r at least it used to. Over the past 30 years, the convergence has largely stopped. Incomes in the poorer states are no longer catching up to incomes in rich states.

America in denial: We’re number 29 (of 30)via Al Jazeera English – Responding to the jingoism around the First Gulf War, Andrew Shapiro’s 1992 book, We’re Number One!: Where America Stands – and Falls – in the New World Order was a sober-minded reality check on how the US really measured up. Just last month, a worthy successor appeared, a short ebook, Decline of the USA, by Edward Fullbrook, comparing the US to the other 29 countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in a series of tables, with only a brief dash of introductory text.

A Closer Look at Middle Class Declinevia NYTimes.com – For the first time since the Great Depression, middle-class families have been losing ground for more than a decade. They, and the poor, have struggled particularly badly since the financial crisis led to a global recession in 2008. The idea that living standards inevitably improve from one generation to the next is under threat. Many of the bedrock assumptions of American culture — about work, progress, fairness and optimism — are being shaken. Arguably no question is more central to the country’s global standing than whether the economy will perform better in the future than it has in the recent past.

Garth Lenz: The true cost of oilvia Video on TED.com – What does environmental devastation actually look like? At TEDxVictoria, photographer Garth Lenz shares shocking photos of the Alberta Tar Sands mining project — and the beautiful (and vital) ecosystems under threat.

Super rich hiding up to $32 trillion offshorevia Al Jazeera English – Rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets in offshore tax havens, representing up to $280bn in lost income tax revenues, according to research published on Sunday.

Best of The Week:

ALISON— A Trove of 400 Free Online Job Training Coursesvia Open Culture – How many of us have taken an online course to learn a new language? My guess is, a lot. How many have used the web to find a recipe? Even more. But as handy as those skills are, will they help anybody land a job?

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledgevia Brain Pickings – In an age obsessed with practicality, productivity, and efficiency, I frequently worry that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical.

Malcom Gladwell: Slack and the Art of Exhaustion via www.newyorker.com – He trained in the cool of Portland, not the swelter of southern Africa. He decided that he wanted to average a six-minute-and-fifteen-second mile. He won, of course. For most of us, slack—the gap between what is possible, under conditions of absolute effort, and actual performance—is unavoidable. We all want to try our hardest, every time. But we can’t. Tyler Cowen, the author of “An Economist Gets Lunch,” argued recently that, out of the dozens of restaurants in Washington, D.C., that aspire to be first class, only five to ten really are at any given time. A restaurant can be great for its first three to six months—as the chefs and the owners strive to make the best possible impression on diners and reviewers.

Aldous Huxley: A Rare, Prophetic 1958 Interview by Mike Wallacevia Brain Pickings – Aldous Huxley — author of the classic Brave New World, little-known children’s book wordsmith, staple of Carl Sagan’s reading list — would have been 118 today. To celebrate his mind and his legacy, here is a rare 1958 conversation with Mike Wallace — the same masterful interviewer who also offered rare glimpses into the minds of Salvador Dalí and Ayn Rand — in which Huxley predicts the “fictional world of horror” depicted in Brave New World is just around the corner for humanity. He explains how overpopulation is among the greatest threats to our freedom, admonishes against the effects of advertising on children, and, more than a century before Occupy Wall Street, outlines how global economic destabilization will incite widespread social unrest

Perfectionism is a Loser’s Strategyvia calnewport.com – Perfectionism, by contrast, can be incredibly stressful. It puts you in a state of constant worry that you’re on the brink of failure. It also tends to push you past your energy reserves and into exhaustion.

Stanford and Venter Institute Simulate an Entire Organism With Softwarevia NYTimes.com – Scientists at Stanford University and the J. Craig Venter Institute have developed the first software simulation of an entire organism, a humble single-cell bacterium that lives in the human genital and respiratory tracts.

OLD POLYMATHS NEVER DIEvia More Intelligent Life – Berlin was one of the great talkers of his age. As a young man in the 1930s he often started a conversation with J.L. Austin, his fellow philosopher, over breakfast in All Souls and continued until lunch. Trevor-Roper preferred the solitude of the study and the discipline of the pen (“the beauty of conversation”, he confided to his journals, “consists of the mute, attentive faces of one’s fellow talkers”). Still they were on friendly terms, belonged to the same charmed world of Oxford colleges, country houses and smart London salons, wrote for the same periodicals, supped with the same BBC producers, and shared a passion for poking fun at pedants, bores and second-raters.

Theo Tait reviews ‘Demon Fish’ via www.lrb.co.uk – Yet shark attacks are an exotic rarity. There were 75 verified shark attacks last year, and 12 fatalities. Even in the US, a global hotspot, you are forty times more likely to be hospitalised by a Christmas tree ornament than by a shark. Meanwhile, to supply the shark fin soup trade alone, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year. Many shark populations have declined by 70 per cent or more in the last thirty years. One reason little is done about this is that although their fins fetch high prices, shark fisheries are of negligible economic value compared to, say, tuna or cod or herring, so little is done to protect stocks.

The state of the housing bubble in 2012via Decision Science News – Last spring we looked at the state of the housing bubble in the US. The question on readers’ minds then was “where is it going next”? Since Decision Science News is looking for a place to buy, it is on our minds as well.

How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo: Steve Ballmer and Corporate America’s Most Spectacular Decline via Vanity Fair – Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the tech industry; indeed, it was the wealthiest corporation in the world. But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc. Talking to former and current Microsoft executives, Kurt Eichenwald finds the fingers pointing at C.E.O. Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates’s successor, as the man who led them astray.

The Story of Steve Jobs: An Inspiration or a Cautionary Tale? via Wired.com – Soon after Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, he decided that a shipping company wasn’t delivering spare parts fast enough. The shipper said it couldn’t do better, and it didn’t have to: Apple had signed a contract granting it the business at the current pace. As Walter Isaacson describes in his best-selling biography, Steve Jobs, the recently recrowned chief executive had a simple response: Break the contract. When an Apple manager warned him that this decision would probably mean a lawsuit, Jobs responded, “Just tell them if they fuck with us, they’ll never get another fucking dime from this company, ever.”

My Big Fat Belizean, Singaporean Bank Accountvia NYTimes.com – Earlier this month, I decided to see how hard it would be to set up my own offshore bank account. I figured it would be pretty difficult, because I’m not rich and don’t have a team of tax lawyers to oversee my money and because the E.U. and U.S. governments have been cracking down on tax havens by imposing stricter tax-sharing requirements. So I proceeded with some caution.

The Castaway’s Guide To Making A Homevia The Browser – Delightful, geeky survey of the shelter Robinson Crusoe and other shipwreck victims, and explorers, have fashioned for themselves on deserted islands

Decision Making, Psychology, & Behavioral Economics

Neuroscience and Moral Responsibilityvia NYTimes.com – Often we think not. For example, research now suggests that the brain’s frontal lobes, which are crucial for self-control, are not yet mature in adolescents. This finding has helped shape attitudes about whether young people are fully responsible for their actions. In 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutional, its decision explicitly took into consideration that “parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence.”

Are Tall People Less Risk Averse than Others?via papers.ssrn.com – This paper examines the question of whether risk aversion of prime-age workers is negatively correlated with human height to a statistically significant degree. A variety of estimation methods, tests and specifications yield robust results that permit one to answer this question in the affirmative. Hausman-Taylor panel estimates, however, reveal that height effects disappear if personality traits and skills, parents’ behaviour, and interactions between environment and individual abilities appear simultaneously. Height is a good proxy for these influences if they are not observable. Not only one factor but a combination of several traits and interaction effects can describe the time-invariant individual effect in a panel model of risk attitude.

Do people have a preference for increasing or decreasing pain? via ideas.repec.org – This paper investigates preferences for different health profiles, especially sequences of increasing and decreasing pain. We test conflicting predictions in terms of preferences over two painful sequences. The QALY concept relevant for the determination of different levels of health-related quality of life implies indifference, whereas behavioral theories find preferences related to ordering, following the peak-end-rule. Using an experimental design with real consequences we generate decisions about painful sequences induced by the cold pressor test. The results are compared with hypothetical choice data elicited using standard methods. We find that hypothetical methods reveal decisions in line with the peak-end-rule. However when it comes to real consequences of their decisions, subjects are on average not willing to pay for that preference.

Do you look forward to retirement? via journal.sjdm.org – This research examines the relationship between positive and negative perceptions of pensions and motivation to engage in the decision process of choosing a private pension plan, as well as satisfaction from the chosen pension plan, among trained economists. A sample of 134 economists completed a self-report survey examining the decision process of different decision contexts in life, including pension decisions. Overall, participants showed low motivation to engage in the process of choosing a private pension plan, compared to their motivation to engage in other decision tasks. However, economists invested more in the decision process and showed greater satisfaction from their decision regarding their pension plan when they had a more positive perception of pensions. This perception is represented by higher subjective likelihood of receiving pension allowances for a long period, and by a profitable view of the balance between current payments and expected incomes from pension saving.

Dishonestly increasing the likelihood of winningvia journal.sjdm.org – People not only seek to avoid losses or secure gains; they also attempt to create opportunities for obtaining positive outcomes. When distributing money between gambles with equal probabilities, people often invest in turning negative gambles into positive ones, even at a cost of reduced expected value. Results of an experiment revealed that (1) the preference to turn a negative outcome into a positive outcome exists when people’s ability to do so depends on their performance levels (rather than merely on their choice), (2) this preference is amplified when the likelihood to turn negative into positive is high rather than low, and (3) this preference is attenuated when people can lie about their performance levels, allowing them to turn negative into positive not by performing better but rather by lying about how well they performed.


Drought (1896-2012)via Chart Porn – A look at drought through the years. There’s also a nice article about the design decisions and process that went into it.

Evolution of the Webvia Chart Porn – A beautifully executed timeline of the history of the web. But really, why does anyone care when different kinds of html were included in each browser? Does anyone actually find this kind of internet navel gazing to be interesting?


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29. July 2006 by Miguel Barbosa
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