----- 3 stars -----
What Putin Really Wants / The Atlantic
"It wasn't a strategic operation,” says Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist with deep sources in the security services, who writes about the Kremlin’s use of cybertechnology. “Given what everyone on the inside has told me,” he says, hacking the U.S. political system “was a very emotional, tactical decision. People were very upset about the Panama Papers.” In the spring of 2016, an international consortium of journalists began publishing revelations from a vast trove of documents belonging to a Panamanian law firm that specialized in helping its wealthy foreign clients move money, some of it ill-gotten, out of their home countries and away from the prying eyes of tax collectors. (The firm has denied any wrongdoing.) The documents revealed that Putin’s old friend Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and the godfather to Putin’s elder daughter, had his name on funds worth some $2 billion. It was an implausible fortune for a little-known musician, and the journalists showed that these funds were likely a piggy bank for Putin’s inner circle. Roldugin has denied any wrongdoing, but the Kremlin was furious about the revelation. [...] Regardless, Putin pulled off a spectacular geopolitical heist on a shoestring budget—about $200 million, according to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. This point is lost on many Americans: The subversion of the election was as much a product of improvisation and entropy as it was of long-range vision. What makes Putin effective, what makes him dangerous, is not strategic brilliance but a tactical flexibility and adaptability—a willingness to experiment, to disrupt, and to take big risks. “They do plan,” said a senior Obama-administration official. “They’re not stupid at all. But the idea that they have this all perfectly planned and that Putin is an amazing chess player—that’s not quite it. He knows where he wants to end up, he plans the first few moves, and then he figures out the rest later. People ask if he plays chess or checkers. It’s neither: He plays blackjack. He has a higher acceptance of risk. Think about it. The election interference—that was pretty risky, what he did. If Hillary Clinton had won, there would’ve been hell to pay.”
Red Dawn in Lapland / Outside
Finland shares an 833-mile border with an aggressive and unpredictable neighbor. That proximity led to a major conflict during World War II—the horrific Winter War—and even now it keeps Finns nervous about Russia’s intentions. David Wolman suited up to train with the elite soldiers who will be on the front lines if this cold feud ever gets hot. [...] Dressed in white snowsuits flecked with small squares of black and gray, we moved without speaking, the only sound a light wind in the trees and the crunch of ski-pole baskets pushing through a thin layer of crust. Our group consisted of 18 elite Finnish troops, nine U.S. Marines and Green Berets, two Swedish soldiers, and me. [...] For this drill, we had to ski down a small ramp and into the water, then get our gear and ourselves out without dying. I know what you’re thinking: polar bear plunges are invigorating! Maybe so. But dunking in nearly freezing water when you’re dehydrated and already cold, clothed in ski gear and thick rubber boots, and without a warm sauna to hop into afterward, is not beneficial. It’s potentially fatal. Sauced on adrenaline, I stood on the shore in my happy suit to watch a Green Beret from Michigan glide into the frozen hellhole. Mike (not his real name) had kept me laughing much of the week with lighthearted jabs at the Finnish officers, who insisted that we wear only the clothes they prescribed, and with his antipathy toward the very conditions in which we found ourselves in Finland. “I just hate cold water,” he told me, the resignation in his voice reminding me of Indiana Jones saying: “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” As Mike’s skis disappeared into the black, his eyes went freakishly wide, like an infant getting their first bath. He knew his assignment: move his weapon, pack, and skis up onto the ice before climbing out. But the body sometimes makes its own plans, especially when expiry is imminent. Mike did a few frantic strokes to the edge of the hole and threw his arms on the ledge. Three Finnish officers stood around the opening, barking at him to retrieve his gear.
Spies, Dossiers, and the Insane Lengths Restaurants Go to Track and Influence Food Critics / Washingtonian
The voice on the phone seemed a little too chipper. Tom Sietsema wondered if he’d been made. Or was he being paranoid? Maybe Le Diplomate’s reservationist was always this enthusiastic about hosting a party of eight at the buzzy French restaurant. Either way, as usual, the Washington Post’s lead restaurant critic made his reservation under an alias. This time, it was Dean Cook. Of course, no mere fake name was enough to fool a top competitor in DC’s dining scene. Back in the manager’s office was a sign listing all of Sietsema’s known aliases and every phone number and e-mail address he’d ever used to make a reservation. If the reservationist were to miss him, a manager checked the books daily. Starr Restaurants’ corporate office in Philadelphia also screened the reservation system. Sietsema’s photo, along with those of dozens of other food writers and editors, was posted in the kitchen. The Dean Cook reservation was for Super Bowl Sunday 2016—ordinarily a slower night. Not this time. Behind the scenes, Le Diplomate was preparing for its own game day, according to accounts from three staffers. (Like many of the restaurant insiders in this story, they requested anonymity.) The restaurant, known for its fashionable clientele, had been knocked from three stars to two and a half in the Post’s last review, and the team was eager to earn its rating back. As the evening approached, the staff ran through its critic checklist—a document employed with extra attention to detail during spring and fall “critic season.” They inspected the light bulbs. They searched for gum under tables. One manager showed up a few hours early to gather brand-new, never-used silverware, glasses, and plates from a stash stored in the church next door. The dinnerware was washed, polished, and set aside specifically for Sietsema’s party so he would see no scuff marks or chips.
What Being a Bike Courier Taught Me About Our Broken Economy / The Walrus
Millennials are Screwed / Huffington Post
These two make a good pair. The Huffington Post piece is sensationalist and strikes me as a bit naive; however, it certainly makes several valid points.
I wonder what happens when someone orders a pizza. A pizza won’t fit in the delivery bag. I figure there has to be something in the algorithm, something built into the app, that funnels pizza orders to those with vehicles. Then I get a call. It’s a pizza delivery. At the restaurant, a server hands me two bags of food and a cartoonishly large pizza box. “I’ll let you figure that out,” he says. I push my bike along the busy sidewalk, trying to get back onto the road. I keep the pizza balanced across my handlebars. An older woman glares at me and shakes her head and clicks her tongue, tsk-tsking. I’m trying. I want to tell her, I’m trying.
What is different about us as individuals compared to previous generations is minor. What is different about the world around us is profound. Salaries have stagnated and entire sectors have cratered. At the same time, the cost of every prerequisite of a secure existence—education, housing and health care—has inflated into the stratosphere. From job security to the social safety net, all the structures that insulate us from ruin are eroding. And the opportunities leading to a middle-class life—the ones that boomers lucked into—are being lifted out of our reach. Add it all up and it’s no surprise that we’re the first generation in modern history to end up poorer than our parents. This is why the touchstone experience of millennials, the thing that truly defines us, is not helicopter parenting or unpaid internships or Pokémon Go. It is uncertainty. “Some days I breathe and it feels like something is about to burst out of my chest,” says Jimmi Matsinger. “I’m 25 and I’m still in the same place I was when I earned minimum wage.” Four days a week she works at a dental office, Fridays she nannies, weekends she babysits. And still she couldn’t keep up with her rent, car lease and student loans. Earlier this year she had to borrow money to file for bankruptcy. I heard the same walls-closing-in anxiety from millennials around the country and across the income scale, from cashiers in Detroit to nurses in Seattle.
She Took On Colombia’s Soda Industry. Then She Was Silenced. / New York Times
It began with menacing phone calls, strange malfunctions of the office computers, and men in parked cars photographing the entrance to the small consumer advocacy group’s offices. Then at dusk one day last December, Dr. Esperanza Cerón, the head of the organization, said she noticed two strange men on motorcycles trailing her Chevy sedan as she headed home from work. She tried to lose them in Bogotá’s rush-hour traffic, but they edged up to her car and pounded on the windows. “If you don’t keep your mouth shut,” one man shouted, she recalled in a recent interview, “you know what the consequences will be.” The episode, which Dr. Cerón reported to federal investigators, was reminiscent of the intimidation often used against those who challenged the drug cartels that once dominated Colombia. But the narcotics trade was not the target of Dr. Cerón and her colleagues. Their work had upset a different multibillion-dollar industry: the makers of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.
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Cat Person / New Yorker
I don't usually share fiction, and I almost decided not to share this short story. But it kept on coming up this week as a recommended read, and it certainly deserves to be. So here you go:
Margot laughed along with the jokes he was making at the expense of this imaginary film-snob version of her, though nothing he said seemed quite fair, since she was the one who’d actually suggested that they see the movie at the Quality 16. Although now, she realized, maybe that had hurt Robert’s feelings, too. She’d thought it was clear that she just didn’t want to go on a date where she worked, but maybe he’d taken it more personally than that; maybe he’d suspected that she was ashamed to be seen with him. She was starting to think that she understood him—how sensitive he was, how easily he could be wounded—and that made her feel closer to him, and also powerful, because once she knew how to hurt him she also knew how he could be soothed. She asked him lots of questions about the movies he liked, and she spoke self-deprecatingly about the movies at the artsy theatre that she found boring or incomprehensible; she told him about how much her older co-workers intimidated her, and how she sometimes worried that she wasn’t smart enough to form her own opinions on anything. The effect of this on him was palpable and immediate, and she felt as if she were petting a large, skittish animal, like a horse or a bear, skillfully coaxing it to eat from her hand. By her third beer, she was thinking about what it would be like to have sex with Robert. Probably it would be like that bad kiss, clumsy and excessive, but imagining how excited he would be, how hungry and eager to impress her, she felt a twinge of desire pluck at her belly, as distinct and painful as the snap of an elastic band against her skin. When they’d finished that round of drinks, she said, boldly, “Should we get out of here, then?,” and he seemed briefly hurt, as if he thought she was cutting the date short, but she took his hand and pulled him up, and the look on his face when he realized what she was saying, and the obedient way he trailed her out of the bar, gave her that elastic-band snap again, as did, oddly, the fact that his palm was slick beneath hers.
How a dorm room Minecraft scam brought down the internet / Wired
The most dramatic cybersecurity story of 2016 came to a quiet conclusion Friday in an Anchorage courtroom, as three young American computer savants pleaded guilty to masterminding an unprecedented botnet—powered by unsecured internet-of-things devices like security cameras and wireless routers—that unleashed sweeping attacks on key internet services around the globe last fall. What drove them wasn’t anarchist politics or shadowy ties to a nation-state. It was Minecraft. It was a hard story to miss last year: In France last September, the telecom provider OVH was hit by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack a hundred times larger than most of its kind. Then, on a Friday afternoon in October 2016, the internet slowed or stopped for nearly the entire eastern United States, as the tech company Dyn, a key part of the internet’s backbone, came under a crippling assault. As the 2016 US presidential election drew near, fears began to mount that the so-called Mirai botnet might be the work of a nation-state practicing for an attack that would cripple the country as voters went to the polls. The truth, as made clear in that Alaskan courtroom Friday—and unsealed by the Justice Department on Wednesday—was even stranger: The brains behind Mirai were a 21-year-old Rutgers college student from suburban New Jersey and his two college-age friends from outside Pittsburgh and New Orleans. All three—Paras Jha, Josiah White, and Dalton Norman, respectively—admitted their role in creating and launching Mirai into the world. Originally, prosecutors say, the defendants hadn’t intended to bring down the internet—they had been trying to gain an advantage in the computer game Minecraft.
Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked / Washington Post
Inside Trump's Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation / New York Times
I’m a brain specialist. I think Trump should be tested for a degenerative brain disease / Stat
Sometimes I think I should never include another Trump article again. Then again, it's hard to argue that understanding Trump is unimportant...
In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real. Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6. They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.” But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.
Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to “Fox & Friends” for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day. Energized, infuriated — often a gumbo of both — Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone. Sometimes he tweets while propped on his pillow, according to aides. Other times he tweets from the den next door, watching another television. Less frequently, he makes his way up the hall to the ornate Treaty Room, sometimes dressed for the day, sometimes still in night clothes, where he begins his official and unofficial calls. As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land much as he did the night of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton — as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress. For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He still relitigates last year’s election, convinced that the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russia’s interference is a plot to delegitimize him. Color-coded maps highlighting the counties he won were hung on the White House walls.
When President Trump slurred his words during a news conference this week, some Trump watchers speculated that he was having a stroke. I watched the clip and, as a physician who specializes in brain function and disability, I don’t think a stroke was behind the slurred words. But having evaluated the chief executive’s remarkable behavior through my clinical lens for almost a year, I do believe he is displaying signs that could indicate a degenerative brain disorder. As the president’s demeanor and unusual decisions raise the potential for military conflict in two regions of the world, the questions surrounding his mental competence have become urgent and demand investigation.
Disney and Fox / Stratechery
The standard reason given for most acquisitions is so-called “synergy”: the idea that the two firms together can generate more revenue with lower costs than they could independently; most managers point towards the second half of that equation, promising investors significant cuts through reducing the number of workers doing the same thing. Certainly that is an argument in Disney’s favor: nearly everything 21st Century Fox does Disney does as well. Still, it’s not exactly a convincing argument; acquisitions also incur significant costs: the price of the acquired asset includes a premium that usually more than covers whatever cost savings might result, and there are significant additional costs that come from integrating two different companies. Absent additional justification, the cost-savings argument comes across as justification for management empire-building, not value creation. That’s not always the reason though: the cost-savings argument is often a fig-leaf for an acquisition that reduces competition; better for management to claim synergies in costs than synergies that result in cornering a market. The result is managers who routinely make weak arguments in public and strong arguments in the boardroom. The best sort of acquisitions, though, are best described by the famous Wayne Gretzky admonition, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been”; these are acquisitions that don’t necessarily make perfect sense in the present but place the acquirer in a far better position going forward: think Google and YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, or Disney’s own acquisition of Capital Cities (which included ESPN). What makes this potential acquisition so intriguing is that it is a mixture of all three — and which of the three you pick depends on the time frame within which you view the deal.
What Roy Moore’s campaign can teach us / Vox
The Growing Partisan Divide Over Feminism / The Atlantic
I spent the weekend talking to Roy Moore supporters in Alabama. Here’s how they see the world. [...] When Beverly Nelson told her story on CNN about the night in the 1970s when she says Roy Moore sexually assaulted her, her voice quavered, and tears streamed down her face. “Instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck,” Nelson said, “to force my head onto his crotch.” Laughter breaks out around me. I’m at a community center in Opelika, Alabama, in an office where residents are trickling in to register to vote. I came here to meet Roy Moore supporters, and to play this YouTube clip of Nelson to understand what they saw in it. To them, it was an amusing performance of a political plant, a liar — or at least an embellisher — crying “crocodile tears.”
Democratic men are 31 points more likely to say that the “country has not gone far enough on women’s rights” than Republican women. [...] In fact, Republican women were 40 points less likely to believe Moore’s accusers than were Democratic men. All of which points to a truth insufficiently appreciated in this moment of sexual and political upheaval: It’s not gender that increasingly divides the two parties. It is feminism.
How Culture Affects Depression / Psychology Today
Genetic vulnerability differs substantially from country to country. East Asian contexts, for example, show a high prevalence of genes associated with depression. Yet, despite these vulnerabilities, they develop fewer cases of the disorder. One hypothesis is that genetic vulnerabilities have co-evolved with culture, creating extra protective factors (in this case, extra interdependence). However, when these people leave their cultural contexts, they have a higher risk of developing depression.
The Great Ivy League A Cappella Hazing Scandal / GQ
The students involved went quiet and lawyered up. A hearing, two appeals, and several months later, the verdict was handed down by the administration: permanent banishment, effective immediately. Almost 70 years of history, gone. Pleas to the interim president of the university, Hunter Rawlings, went nowhere; he declined to intervene, citing the extreme nature of the hazing. After all, the details in the university report were alarming. What if something had gone wrong? What if someone had died? What kind of fraternity would make vulnerable and impressionable kids do something like sit in an ice bath, which could lead to cardiac arrest? But wait, hold on—who said anything about a fraternity? This situation didn't involve a frat house. In fact, it was maybe the furthest thing, even the direct opposite of a fraternity. It was an a cappella group. And not just any a cappella group, but the a cappella group that inspired me to write a book called Pitch Perfect, which was adapted into a hit movie that's probably airing for the billionth time on HBO right now. (A third Pitch Perfect film is due out at Christmas.) The same a cappella group that I sang in—20 years ago—during my years as an undergraduate at Cornell. So no, not just any a cappella group. My a cappella group.
A Day in the Uber Life / Village Voice
After waiting half again the amount of time I expected to, I catch a ride to Cobble Hill. The longer you wait at the airport, the more fervently you hope for a long ride, and the more anxiously you fear a short one. (Hello! My name is Jaime. Ask me about my Sunk Cost fallacy.) Most Brooklyn rides from LaGuardia Airport tend to gross around $30 to $35, which ends up netting the driver $19 to $22 once Uber gets its taste. All things being equal, a yellow cab fare might have been a dollar or three more, plus a tip, but you’re losing more to the garage. Every passenger drop-off is a destination for the rider, and a new starting point for the driver. If I’m sitting in my car in Cobble Hill, I can look at my iPhone and mentally thumb through my options. Union Street is behind me, Atlantic Avenue is ahead of me. The closer I get to Flatbush Avenue and the Barclays Center, the more of a pain in the ass pickups will be. What I should do is try to get somebody from the Whole Foods on Third Avenue, or — better yet — hang around the IKEA in Red Hook. Occasionally, that IKEA contracts an NYPD officer to make sure drivers like me aren’t hovering like vultures, but that’s only inside the loading area. The No Standing zone across the street, which has little to no city enforcement presence, works just as well.
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Nota bene #10 / Felix Salmon
On the recent da Vinci painting sale:
Which explains, at least in part, why a centuries-old painting was sold in a Contemporary Art sale, rather than in the Old Masters sale where you'd think it belonged. The world of Old Masters is, still, a place where connoisseurship matters. In the Contemporary Art world, by contrast, the only people driving valuations are collectors. Christie's realized that they could bypass the cognoscenti and going straight to the art-buying public. That strategy, it turns out, can pay off handsomely. Especially since, at these levels, it's fair to say that Christie's has a personal relationship with every human being on the planet who's willing and able to pay $400 million for a painting. You can be sure that all of them were contacted by the auction house at some point over the past month. And you don't need to know anything about art to spend $450 million on a painting; all you need is $450 million.
11 Beloved Movies That Were Box Office Flops / Mental Floss
The ones that surprised me: It's A Wonderful Life, Blade Runner, The Shawshank Redemption, Citizen Kane, Fight Club, and The Wizard of Oz
Napoleon was the Best General Ever, and the Math Proves it. / Towards Data Science
The math does no such thing, but some of what he did is still pretty cool:
My first challenge was constructing a reliable dataset. Since I was unable to find a comprehensive dataset of historical battles, I decided to build my own. I used Wikipedia’s lists of battles as a starting point. While not comprehensive, Wikipedia’s lists include 3,580 unique battles and 6619 generals, which provided a sufficient sample to create a model. I then developed a function that could scrape key information for each battle, including all of the commanders involved in the battle, the total forces available to those commanders, and the outcome of the battle.
Face of Ancient Queen Revealed for First Time / National Geographic
Centuries after a noblewoman lived and died in Peru, scientists have reconstructed her face in stunning 3-D.