Lots of good stuff this week
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The Lifespan of a Lie / Medium
The most famous psychology study of all time was a sham. Why can’t we escape the Stanford Prison Experiment? [...] There’s just one problem: Korpi’s breakdown was a sham. “Anybody who is a clinician would know that I was faking,” he told me last summer, in the first extensive interview he has granted in years. “If you listen to the tape, it’s not subtle. I’m not that good at acting. I mean, I think I do a fairly good job, but I’m more hysterical than psychotic.” Now a forensic psychologist himself, Korpi told me his dramatic performance in the SPE was indeed inspired by fear, but not of abusive guards. Instead, he was worried about failing to get into grad school. [...] But it is no longer just a question of Zimbardo’s word against theirs. This past April, a French academic and filmmaker named Thibault Le Texier published Histoire d’un Mensonge [History of a Lie], plumbing newly-released documents from Zimbardo’s archives at Stanford University to tell a dramatically different story of the experiment. After Zimbardo told me that Korpi and Yacco’s accusations were baseless, I read him a transcript unearthed by Le Texier of a taped conversation between Zimbardo and his staff on day three of the simulation.
A Company Built on a Bluff / New York
For almost 25 years, Shane Smith’s plan for Vice was that, by the time the suckers caught on, he’d never be stuck owning the company he co-founded. [...] If the modern version of Vice has a born-on date, it may have come in the spring of 2010, when the company landed a meeting with Intel, the computer-chip-maker, which wanted more young people to care about Pentium processors. Vice was still running on a shoestring, and Intel promised access to a $2 billion annual marketing budget. “Shane’s whole thing was, ‘We can’t let them think we’re these poor kids,’ ” says one former employee. According to multiple employees who worked at Vice at the time, Smith went to the architecture firm across the hall from Vice’s Williamsburg office and asked how much it would cost to get them to move out ASAP. Vice’s 50 employees then worked around the clock for several days setting up the new space to look like it had been Vice’s all along. Vice constructed a glass-enclosed conference room to host the Intel meeting, and late one night, an employee answered a buzz at the door to find a plumber who’d come to install a fancy Japanese toilet. On the morning of the Intel meeting, Vice employees were instructed to get to the office early, to bring friends with laptops to circulate in and out of the new space, and to “be yourselves, but 40 percent less yourselves,” which meant looking like the hip 20-somethings they were but in a way that wouldn’t scare off a marketing executive. A few employees put on a photo shoot in a ground-floor studio as the Intel executives walked by. “Shane’s strategy was, ‘I’m not gonna tell them we own the studio, but I’m not gonna tell them we don’t,’ ” one former employee says. That night, Smith took the marketers to dinner, then to a bar where Vice employees had been told to assemble for a party. When Smith arrived, just ahead of the Intel employees, he walked up behind multiple Vice employees and whispered into their ears, “Dance.”
The Black Hand / BuzzFeed
McWhorter was still trying to make sense of that when Martinez delivered a much bigger revelation: “I’ve killed over 35 men in my life.” Martinez, who was born and spent most of his life in California, said that for three decades he had worked as a gun for hire, collecting debts and killing people across the United States. Police say that work was often for Mexican drug cartels, though in a few cases he also killed people just because they pissed him off. Martinez refused to say anything about the drug business, including whom he worked for or with. But he was more than happy to talk about bodies. And about his own prowess in killing. They called him El Mano Negra, he said — the Black Hand. [...] Some of those bad things may only now be coming to light, after BuzzFeed News pored through cold cases in places around the country where Martinez said he killed people, identified those that fit Martinez’s patterns, and then set out to determine if he was the killer. Many of the cases had sat unsolved for years or decades — during which Martinez continued killing, depositing more bodies in more lonely fields. After BuzzFeed News began making inquiries, at least one homicide detective flew in from Oregon to question Martinez in his Florida jail. Born and raised in a state notorious for its fascination with serial killers, Martinez was, by the numbers, one of the most deadly. His claims put him on par with the Night Stalker, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy — and far above the 12 now attributed to the Golden State Killer, whose recent arrest sparked nationwide headlines. Yet catching Martinez fell to a small sheriff’s office in Alabama. McWhorter, its chief investigator, had followed his father into law enforcement right after high school and had never lived outside his tiny northwestern corner of the state. His department was so unprepared to investigate a drug-world contract killer that to interview one of their suspects, they had to call in the high school Spanish teacher and football coach to translate for them. But that tiny department did what dozens of police in more sophisticated and well-funded departments across the country had for so long failed to do: It brought to justice one of the deadliest hit men in modern American history.
Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It / The Cut
A crazy story:
Somebody had to foot the bill for Anna Delvey’s fabulous new life. The city was full of marks. [...] It started with money, as it so often does in New York. A crisp $100 bill slipped across the smooth surface of the mid-century-inspired concierge desk at 11 Howard, the sleek new boutique hotel in Soho. Looking up, Neffatari Davis, the 25-year-old concierge, who goes by “Neff,” was surprised to see the cash had come from a young woman who seemed to be around her age. [...] She’d be staying at the hotel for a month, she went on, which Neff also found surprising: Usually it was only celebrities who came for such long stretches. But Neff checked the system, and there it was. Delvey was booked into a Howard Deluxe, one of the hotel’s midrange options, about $400 a night, with ceramic sculptures on the walls and oversize windows looking onto the bustling streets of Soho. It was February 18, 2017. “Thanks,” said Delvey. “See you around.” That turned out to be a promise. Over the next few weeks, Delvey stopped by often to ask Neff’s advice, slipping her $100 each time. [...] When you’re superrich, you can be forgetful in this way. Which is maybe why no one thought much of the instances in which Anna did things that seemed odd for a wealthy person: calling a friend to have her put a taxi from the airport on her credit card, or asking to sleep on someone’s couch, or moving into someone’s apartment with the tacit agreement to pay rent, and then … not doing it. Maybe she had so much money she just lost track of it. [...] As Anna bounced around the globe, there was some speculation as to where her means to do this came from, though no one seemed to care that much so long as the bills got paid. “I thought she had family money,” said Jayma Cardoso, one of the owners of the Surf Lodge in Montauk. Delvey’s father was a diplomat to Russia, one friend was sure. No, another insisted, he was an oil-industry titan. “As far as I knew, her family was the Delvey family that is big in antiques in Germany,” said another acquaintance, a millionaire tech CEO. (It is unclear what family he was referring to.) The CEO met Anna through the boyfriend she was running around with for a while, a futurist on the TED-Talks circuit who’d been profiled in The New Yorker. For about two years, they’d been kind of like a team, showing up in places frequented by the itinerant wealthy, living out of fancy hotels and hosting sceney dinners where the Futurist talked up his app and Delvey spoke of the private club she wanted to open once she turned 25 and came into her trust fund. [...] Through her connections, she’d befriended Gabriel Calatrava, one of the sons of famed architect Santiago. His family’s real-estate advisory company, Calatrava Grace, had helped her “secure the lease,” she informed people, on the perfect space: 45,000 square feet occupying six floors of the historic Church Missions House, a landmarked building on the corner of Park Avenue and 22nd.
In Search of Forgotten Colors / Kottke
The Victoria and Albert Museum filmed this short four-part documentary about the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop near Kyoto, Japan. They make dyes using only natural materials, producing vibrant colors using little-used and often long-forgotten techniques.
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The Wounds of the Drone Warrior / New York Times
Initially, the good days outnumbered the bad ones for Aaron. He wasn’t bothered by the long shifts, the high-pressure decisions or the strangeness of being able to stalk — and potentially kill — targets from thousands of miles away. Although Aaron and his peers spent more time doing surveillance and reconnaissance than coordinating strikes, sometimes they would relay information to a commander about what they saw on-screen, and “60 seconds later, depending on what we would report, you would either see a missile fired or not,” he said. Other times, they would trail targets for months. The first few times he saw a Predator drone unleash its lethal payload — the camera zooming in, the laser locking on, a plume of smoke rising above the scorched terrain where the missile struck — he found it surreal, he told me. But he also found it awe-inspiring. Often, he experienced a surge of adrenaline, as analysts in the room exchanged high-fives. [...] When their shifts end, the airmen and women drive to their subdivisions alone, like clerks in an office park. One minute they are at war; the next they are at church or picking up their kids from school. A retired pilot, Jeff Bright, who served at Creech for five years, described the bewildering nature of the transition. “I’d literally just walked out on dropping bombs on the enemy, and 20 minutes later I’d get a text — can you pick up some milk on your way home?” Bright enjoyed serving in the drone program and believed that he was making a difference, a sentiment I heard repeatedly at Creech. But other airmen in his unit struggled to cope with stress, he said — there were divorces and some cases of suicide.
Tim Miller can find almost anyone. Can he find his daughter’s killer? / The Guardian
In 1984, Laura, 16, was abducted and murdered by an unknown assailant. Her death set Miller on a one-man crusade – organizing search parties, goading the police investigation, and working to solve not only Laura’s case but all cases of missing women in the area. Miller developed considerable expertise at finding missing people, or their bodies. Families and law enforcement agencies across the country began contacting him for his help in cases of all kinds: missing dementia patients; lost toddlers; planes disappeared over sea; and suspected homicides – a seeming avalanche of murder cases, hot and cold alike. In 2000, Miller founded Texas EquuSearch, a search-and-recovery non-profit which has assisted with hundreds of missing-persons cases and located more than 400 living people and 238 bodies, according to the organization. Miller and his team have searched for missing people, or their remains, in every kind of river, lake, retention pond, bay, bayou and canal, using everything from scuba divers to sonar to tiny robotic boats. When he isn’t looking underwater, Miller looks under the earth. Once he dug the foundations out from under a house, looking for bodies. He didn’t find any, though he found a suspiciously body-shaped hollow in the earth. Even when he isn’t leading a search, or managing his day job – a construction business – Miller seems to find himself digging. “I was on my tractor from dawn to dusk yesterday, moving dirt,” he told me when I met him. “Stress relief.” In person Miller, 71, calls to mind a coiled spring, rusted, but still strong. He radiates restless energy – pacing around in his brown cowboy ropers, fumbling cigarettes from a shirt pocket, balancing a phone in the crook of his neck, fielding phone calls from victims’ families, FBI agents, sheriff’s deputies. The one case Miller has never been able to close, however, is the one that started him on his strange mission in the first place: his daughter’s murder. But now, three decades later, he believes he knows who did it.
Don’t Eat Before Reading This / New Yorker
Anthony Bourdain's classic piece from 1999:
People who order their meat well-done perform a valuable service for those of us in the business who are cost-conscious: they pay for the privilege of eating our garbage. In many kitchens, there’s a time-honored practice called “save for well-done.” When one of the cooks finds a particularly unlovely piece of steak—tough, riddled with nerve and connective tissue, off the hip end of the loin, and maybe a little stinky from age—he’ll dangle it in the air and say, “Hey, Chef, whaddya want me to do with this?” Now, the chef has three options. He can tell the cook to throw the offending item into the trash, but that means a total loss, and in the restaurant business every item of cut, fabricated, or prepared food should earn at least three times the amount it originally cost if the chef is to make his correct food-cost percentage. Or he can decide to serve that steak to “the family”—that is, the floor staff—though that, economically, is the same as throwing it out. But no. What he’s going to do is repeat the mantra of cost-conscious chefs everywhere: “Save for well-done.” The way he figures it, the philistine who orders his food well-done is not likely to notice the difference between food and flotsam.
The Crazy Hacks One Woman Used To Make Money On Mechanical Turk / Wired
Jobs were more difficult to find in her hometown of Toronto since the beginning of the Great Recession. But there was one place where Milland knew she could get work immediately. Launched in 2005, Mechanical Turk is an online “crowdsourcing” marketplace run by Amazon. [...] Categorizing an item every five seconds for an hour, at $0.03 per image would pay $21.60 per hour. She also took on more complicated tasks. Writing descriptions for product sites, for instance, could pay $1.50 per paragraph. So if she did one every five minutes, she would make $18 an hour. It was a matter of doing the work quickly and sticking with it for a long time. Turker Nation, a forum where Milland was a moderator, had a place where Turkers alerted each other about these “good work” opportunities, which paid well and could be completed in large batches. To make sure that she didn’t miss any of them, Milland set up an automated system that, when a new “good work” task was posted, would check to see how much it paid and whether she met its qualifications. If she was eligible for a task that paid $0.05, her computer would alert her with a “ping” noise. If she were eligible for a task that paid between $0.05 and $0.25, her computer would sound an alarm that sounded like a laundry machine finishing. If she were eligible for a task that paid more than $0.25, a siren would sound. No matter where Milland was in her house, if she heard the alarm go off, she would run to her computer. There were thousands of other Mechanical Turk workers competing with each other to grab the high-paying work, which was assigned to whoever could claim it first. Milland would sleep in her office so that she could listen for the alarm to go off at night without waking her husband. When she spotted good tasks, often through her alarm system, she used an automated tool to keep her queue full with the maximum 25 tasks that could be assigned to her at one time, and then worked furiously to finish them and grab more before they were snatched by other people.
Trump and Kim Can Learn a Thing or Two From Singapore / Bloomberg
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are spending such a short amount of time in Singapore this week. Maybe they should stick around longer to see what makes its economy tick. Singapore is an especially wealthy nation, with a per capita income of about $90,000, well above that of the U.S. But how is this prosperity maintained, and why has Singapore commanded so much admiration from liberals and conservatives alike? [...] Strikingly, Singapore is one of the few countries where there is brain drain into the public sector. This stems partly from the high salaries paid. Top bureaucrats typically receive more than their American equivalents, and cabinet level pay may exceed $800,000, with bonuses attached that can double that sum for excellent performance. [...] I’ve met a number of times with Singaporean government officials, and I’ve always been impressed with their state-of-the-art social science knowledge. The participants typically have top educational backgrounds (doctorates from Harvard or Princeton are common, and now two of Singapore’s universities have achieved world class status). Their analysis is pragmatically geared toward finding the right answer or at least a workable solution. I view the development of Singaporean civil service culture as one of the world’s great managerial and political success stories of the last 50 years, though it remains understudied and underdiscussed in the West. Singapore also mixes many of the virtues of both small and big government. The high quality of the civil service means the country gets “good government,” which pleases many liberals and progressives. The high quality of the decision-making means Singapore often looks to market incentives — congestion pricing for the roads is one example of many — which pleases conservatives and libertarians.
NASA is learning the best way to grow food in space / Popular Science
“Our plants aren’t looking too good,” astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted from the International Space Station on December 27, 2015. He was right: The attached picture showed four baby zinnias bathed in magenta light. Three of the four leafy stalks were discolored and curling in on themselves. The station’s garden was struggling to recover from a mold problem. It’s an issue familiar to terrestrial gardeners. And while on Earth, the problem means a trip to the local nursery for replacements, in space you can’t do that. The zinnias, brightly colored flowers in the daisy family, were part of an experiment called Veggie, whose ultimate mission is to provide crews with a long-term source of food. In prior tests, astronauts had successfully harvested lettuce. The zinnias had a longer growth period—60 to 80 days—and then would bloom, producing neon-hued blossoms that look like they belong in a psychedelic corsage. They were practice for something finickier and tastier than leafy greens: tomatoes. If station crews were ever going to grow something that intricate, they needed to figure out—among other things— how to vanquish mold.
Lost: Struggling to cope with millions of unclaimed items in Tokyo / Japan Times
Okubo says that roughly 3,000 umbrellas are found in Tokyo on a typical rainy day. In 2016, the metropolitan police handled a total of 381,135 umbrellas across the entire year. Each umbrella is fitted with a tag that lists detailed information on when and where it was found. It is then stored according to the date it was handed in and the rail operators that logged it. “It’s really hard for us to store items in a systematic way so that they can be found easily when a person comes in to claim something,” Okubo says. [...] In Tokyo alone, 3.83 millions items were recorded by the Metropolitan Police Department in 2016, according to data compiled by the agency. By comparison, the center handled just 1.37 million items in 1997. Driver’s licenses and credit cards were the most common items handled by the Metropolitan Police Department last year, accounting for 15.6 percent of the total. Train passes, clothes and shoes were also high on the list. It’s also worth noting that a record ¥3.67 billion was handed in to the Metropolitan Police Department last year, surpassing the ¥3.5 billion that was recorded in 1990 during the nation’s so-called bubble era.
Messi Walks Better Than Most Players Run / FiveThirtyEight
And yet, in part because of the juvenile nature of soccer analysis, we have barely scratched the surface of understanding quite how Messi does it. This is most true when looking at his movement. Messi may get the ball more than most, but he, like all players, still spends the majority of his time without it — making runs, hiding in space, creating space for his teammates. It’s an integral part of his game that we know almost nothing about. The outcomes are there for all to see, but the process is obfuscated — we observe and quantify what Messi does on the ball, and are blind when he is off it. Throughout his career, Messi has been criticized for walking. After an El Clasico match between Barcelona and Real Madrid in December 2017, there was widespread coverage of the fact that Messi walked 83 percent of the roughly 5 miles he covered that game. Despite this, he scored and assisted in Barca’s 3-0 trouncing. [...] Remarkably, in about 66 percent of the moments Messi won control of valuable space, he was walking. Even while strolling, he is helping his team by holding ground in valuable areas, waiting for the ball to come to him.
Trump Kim summit: Imagine a North Korean family / BBC
After his landmark meeting with leader Kim Jong-un, US President Donald Trump said he would consider dropping sanctions against North Korea, once it's made progress on nuclear disarmament. But how might this economic change make its way through to ordinary people in the impoverished country long shut off from the outside world? What would it mean for an average North Korean family? With the help of some experts, the BBC has tried to imagine life for a hypothetical North Korean family, the Lees. This is their story.
Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test / The Atlantic
Another famous study falls victim to the replication crisis:
The marshmallow test is one of the most famous pieces of social-science research: Put a marshmallow in front of a child, tell her that she can have a second one if she can go 15 minutes without eating the first one, and then leave the room. Whether she’s patient enough to double her payout is supposedly indicative of a willpower that will pay dividends down the line, at school and eventually at work. Passing the test is, to many, a promising signal of future success. But a new study, published last week, has cast the whole concept into doubt. [...] Instead, it suggests that the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background—and, in turn, that that background, not the ability to delay gratification, is what’s behind kids’ long-term success.
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Gossiping Is Good / The Atlantic
Word on the street is that gossip is the worst. An Ann Landers advice column once characterized it as “the faceless demon that breaks hearts and ruins careers.” The Talmud describes it as a “three-pronged tongue” that kills three people: the teller, the listener, and the person being gossiped about. And Blaise Pascal observed, not unreasonably, that “if people really knew what others said about them, there would not be four friends left in the world.” Convincing as these indictments seem, however, a significant body of research suggests that gossip may in fact be healthy.
IQ scores are falling and have been for decades, new study finds / CNN
IQ scores have been steadily falling for the past few decades, and environmental factors are to blame, a new study says. The research suggests that genes aren't what's driving the decline in IQ scores, according to the study, published Monday. [...] Similar studies in Denmark, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Finland and Estonia have demonstrated a similar downward trend in IQ scores, said Ole Rogeberg, a senior research fellow at the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Norway and co-author of the new study.
Great Tournament, Great Players, Not-So-Great Soccer / Slate
But a number of changes in the past 30 years have allowed European club soccer to leap past the international game, among them a relaxation of quotas of foreign-born players allowed on rosters and the European Court of Justice’s 1995 Bosman ruling that allowed for free movement of players between clubs. The biggest factor, though, has been the ocean of money that’s pushed down the fabric of the soccer universe like a great gravity well, funneling all the world’s most talented players into fewer leagues and fewer clubs within those leagues. [...] At its worst, the World Cup gives us a template-driven game, indistinguishable variations on defensive-minded soccer, the better to plug your players in and run them out with little preparation. At its best, we get to see unique solutions like Marcelo Bielsa’s ludicrous-speed Chile from 2010 that set the tone for much of this decade’s tactics or Jorge Luis Pinto’s smothering Costa Rica that surrendered two goals in five games in 2014. These teams were beautiful, imperfect machines. They didn’t win the World Cup, but hardly anyone wins the World Cup.
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