----- 3 stars -----

“He Actually Believes He Is Khalid”: The Amazing 30-Year Odyssey of a Counterfeit Saudi Prince / Vanity Fair

Investors all over the world fell for the schemes of the man who called himself Khalid bin al-Saud. But the truth turned out to be more incredible than the lie. [...] "My name is Khalid,” he tells me, and I want to believe him. After all, he has traveled the world as royalty—the son of the king of Saudi Arabia, no less. Leading international investors know him as His Royal Highness Khalid bin al-Saud. He moved in an entourage of Rolls-Royces and Ferraris, his every whim tended to by uniformed housekeepers and armed bodyguards. A suave British-born C.E.O. handled his business affairs, and a well-connected international banker marketed his investment deals to a select few, leaving him to live a life of astonishing excess. Ever since he was a boy, he had been pitted against his royal brothers in an expensive game—to see who could “outdo the other one” in spending, he liked to say. Khalid was surely winning. He was in negotiations to purchase 30 percent of the famed Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach for $440 million, and he was selling early access to what promised to be the biggest I.P.O. in history: the initial public offering of Aramco, the Saudi oil giant. Until last June, when the Saudi government shelved the plan, the I.P.O. was expected to be worth more than $2 trillion. [...] His true identity, which was revealed after his arrest at J.F.K. airport last November, isn’t Prince Khalid of Saudi Arabia, but Anthony Enrique Gignac, a Colombian orphan adopted by an American couple and transported to Michigan when he was six years old. Embarking on a life of crime and deception that spanned 30 years, he became an “epic con artist” for whom “no scheme is out of reach,” according to a U.S. attorney. His most recent scam involved allegedly duping 26 international investors out of $8 million, while simultaneously attempting to con Miami billionaire Jeffrey Soffer, the ex-husband of supermodel Elle Macpherson, into taking him on as a partner in the Fontainebleau hotel. Gignac initially pleaded guilty to both schemes—only to reverse himself at a hearing in July, where his attorney successfully argued for a trial by jury.

The Rise and Fall of Affirmative Action / New Yorker

This alliance, between a white conservative tactician and a comparatively inexperienced base of recently energized Asian-American activists, has complicated the traditional optics of the civil-rights and diversity debates. Winifred Kao, a lawyer at the Asian Law Caucus, said that Blum was not “a champion for Asian-Americans, by any means.” Rather, he was “using Asian-Americans as a wedge, as we’ve often been used, throughout our racial and civil-rights history.” Many of Blum’s critics point to a video in which he admits that he “needed” Asian plaintiffs to pursue this latest challenge to affirmative action. “I feel that the Asian-American student population and community is being used as a pawn in a chess game, around limited resources in élite sectors of American society,” Prudence Carter, a sociologist and the dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, told me. “I think that the entire world can see that.” If Blum’s suit is successful, the effect will be felt far beyond Harvard. It will limit the freedom that academic institutions have often had in pursuing their unique educational missions. The lawsuit, and Blum’s efforts to change the cultural conversation surrounding diversity and discrimination, could end affirmative action in higher education as we know it. [...] Margaret M. Chin, a sociologist at Hunter College, was involved with the pro-affirmative-action movement as an undergrad at Harvard in the eighties. She has wrestled with the difference between progressive students’ efforts to take Harvard to task for a seemingly low acceptance rate for Asian-Americans, when she was there, and the current conservative movement. “It’s a different historical moment,” she concluded. She was baffled by the resentment the plaintiffs felt toward Harvard. “Why would any of you sue Harvard for doing this? For not accepting you? They reject ninety-five per cent of the people. To me, I was, like, ‘Oh, my God. These kids are really entitled.’ ” [...] Harvard’s a tough place, Chin said; many Asian-Americans were stuck on its name. She pointed to how élitist Harvard remains, how those who “have the most” are still the white kids who populate the campus’s secretive Final Clubs. “Our kids are not those kids.”

Unprotected / ProPublica
I found this piece challenging, disturbing and thought-provoking -- despite what seemed to me like the journalist's efforts to oversimplify the situation:

An acclaimed American charity said it was saving some of the world’s most vulnerable girls from sexual exploitation. But from the very beginning, girls were being raped. [...] Yet some of the girls present that September day had a secret. Far from being saved from sexual exploitation, they were being raped by the man standing beside Meyler on the stage. His assaults went on for years and continued in the new school. He was protected by his position — he was presented as “co-founder” of MTM; he and Meyler had had an intimate relationship, and she kept him in place even after having reason to suspect his predilections. But he was also shielded from exposure in the community by everything that she had brought: a school, scholarships and, above all, hope. After his crimes became known, filling hundreds of pages of police and legal records, the charity worked to obscure the details and to place responsibility almost anywhere but with Meyler or MTM: Liberia’s culture was blamed. As a growing number of former staff, victims and their families told ProPublica their stories, More Than Me fought to contain the damage. Senior charity officials, with Liberian government support, cross-examined key witnesses, asking if they wanted to take back what they had said. Many of those they reached still rely on the charity for support. They told the charity they no longer wanted their stories published.

What to Expect from Jair Bolsonaro / Americas Quarterly

It’s not over yet. But it’s close. Jair Bolsonaro seems very likely to become Brazil’s next president, following Sunday’s election in which he took 46 percent of the overall vote. While he will face a runoff on Oct. 28 against the Workers’ Party’s Fernando Haddad, many international observers, investors and ordinary Brazilians are already looking beyond that day and asking how the right-wing former army captain might govern if elected. I have followed Bolsonaro closely for more than two years, interviewing him and his sons (also prominent politicians) and maintaining contact with people close to his candidacy. I have written numerous columns chronicling his rise, and I spent last week in Brazil talking to his supporters and critics as well as members of the business community, the media and civil society. In this article, I will omit my personal views about his candidacy, and address in the coldest, most factual terms possible how Bolsonaro might work to fix Brazil’s worst-ever economic crisis and a homicide epidemic that killed a record 63,880 people in 2017, among other policy priorities. [...] If there’s one thing Bolsonaro’s supporters and critics tend to agree on, it’s that upcoming months will bring an onslaught of death in Brazilian cities. This is after all Bolsonaro’s number-one policy priority: relaxing laws and rules for security forces, allowing them to shoot first and ask questions later (to an even greater extent than today, considering police already kill 5,000 people per year). [...] Near-total alignment with the Trump administration. As stated above, the United States has become a kind of North Star for Bolsonaro and his acolytes – so much so that the candidate even saluted the American flag and chanted “USA! USA!” with the crowd at a campaign event in Miami last October. This would have been career suicide for virtually any other Brazilian candidate over the past 30 years. But in today’s climate, supporting the U.S. has become a kind of code for rejection of the ideological left, which governed Brazil from 2003-16 and led the country into its current disaster. The gestures are more than just superficial. [...] What does it mean in practice? A much tougher line against Venezuela (and Cuba), full cooperation on anti-drug issues, the possible move of Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, and enthusiastic support for Washington at the United Nations and other international bodies.

----- 2 stars -----

Interstellar Visitor Found to Be Unlike a Comet or an Asteroid / Quanta

The mystery of ’Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever observed, continues to deepen. A new analysis argues that if it were a comet, it would have broken apart as it passed near the sun.

‘You shouldn’t be doing this’ / Washington Post

There was Maria Vargas, a shy and brooding girl who looked older than her 16 years, and her husband, Phil Manning, 25, who often acted younger than his. And nearby, smoking a cigarette, was a slight woman with long, narrow features, Michelle Hockenberry, 39, the mother who’d allowed her daughter to marry. Even in an era when the median age of marrying has climbed higher and higher, unions like Phil and Maria’s remain surprisingly prevalent in the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, an estimated 248,000 children were married, most of whom were girls, some as young as 12, wedding men. [...] Maria was a housewife, in every sense. In this trailer at the edge of town, which she rarely left and which she and Phil shared with an unemployed friend, she cooked most meals, swept floors, dispensed advice and managed finances. Every month, Phil took home $1,600 from a furnace of a factory making drill bits, and every month, they spent about $1,150 of it on bills. To keep them disciplined, she’d stuck a budget to the refrigerator. “Monthly savings: $450,” it said. The sum seemed more hopeful than realistic, but it was what they had to save if they were ever going to get the money they needed to move to nearby Bedford, where she hoped to enroll at a high school that had on-campus child care for Douglas.

Why Is College in America So Expensive? / The Atlantic

All told, including the contributions of individual families and the government (in the form of student loans, grants, and other assistance), Americans spend about $30,000 per student a year—nearly twice as much as the average developed country. “The U.S. is in a class of its own,” says Andreas Schleicher, the director for education and skills at the OECD, and he does not mean this as a compliment. “Spending per student is exorbitant, and it has virtually no relationship to the value that students could possibly get in exchange.” [...] But on closer inspection, the data suggest a bigger problem than fancy room and board. Even if we were to zero out all these ancillary services tomorrow, the U.S. would still spend more per college student than any other country (except, again, Luxembourg). It turns out that the vast majority of American college spending goes to routine educational operations—like paying staff and faculty—not to dining halls. These costs add up to about $23,000 per student a year—more than t wice what Finland, Sweden, or Germany spends on core services. [...] The more I studied America’s baffling higher-education system, the more it reminded me of health care. In both spaces, Americans pay twice as much as people in other developed countries—and get very uneven results. The U.S. spends nearly $10,000 a person on health care each year (25 percent more than Switzerland, the next biggest spender), according to the OECD’s 2017 Health at a Glance report, but our life expectancy is now almost two years below the average for the developed world. “I used to joke that I could just take all my papers and statistical programs and globally replace hospitals with schools, doctors with teachers and patients with students,” says Dartmouth College’s Douglas Staiger, one of the few U.S. economists who studies both education and health care.

Math Titans Clash Over Epic Proof of the ABC Conjecture / Wired

The abc conjecture, which Conrad has called “one of the outstanding conjectures in number theory,” starts with one of the simplest equations imaginable: a + b = c. [...] The conjecture “always seems to lie on the boundary of what is known and what is unknown,” Dorian Goldfeld of Columbia University has written. The wealth of consequences that would spring from a proof of the abc conjecture had convinced number theorists that proving the conjecture was likely to be very hard. So when word spread in 2012 that Mochizuki had presented a proof, many number theorists dived enthusiastically into his work — only to be stymied by the unfamiliar language and unusual presentation. Definitions went on for pages, followed by theorems whose statements were similarly long, but whose proofs only said, essentially, “this follows immediately from the definitions.”

A 500-year-old map used by Columbus reveals its secrets / National Geographic

This 1491 map is the best surviving map of the world as Christopher Columbus knew it as he made his first voyage across the Atlantic. In fact, Columbus likely used a copy of it in planning his journey. The map, created by the German cartographer Henricus Martellus, was originally covered with dozens of legends and bits of descriptive text, all in Latin. Most of it has faded over the centuries. But now researchers have used modern technology to uncover much of this previously illegible text. In the process, they’ve discovered new clues about the sources Martellus used to make his map and confirmed the huge influence it had on later maps, including a famous 1507 map by Martin Waldseemuller that was the first to use the name “America.”

Why Did China’s Biggest Movie Star and the Interpol Chief Vanish? / New Yorker

When, suddenly and without explanation, Fan Bingbing, China’s most famous actress and its highest-paid celebrity, vanished, in July, conspiracy theories abounded. Had she been abducted? Was she in exile? Or had “the No. 1 beauty under the heavens,” as she is known, been having an affair with the Vice-President, and been forced into hiding? In China, where the movie industry favors fantasies and mysteries, the story of Fan’s disappearance suggested the kind of thriller in which she herself might star. But, last week, after an absence of more than three months, she resurfaced to issue a statement that could have earned her a part in a well-known TV drama series: the coerced public apology. [...] She was ordered to pay a hundred and thirty million dollars in back taxes and penalties. Her actions amounted not only to a personal misstep, she wrote, but to a betrayal of China. “I owe my success to the support from my country and the people. Without the great policies of the [Chinese Communist] Party and the country, without the love of the people, there would be no Fan Bingbing,” she wrote. “I have failed my country.” [...] Taken together, the abrupt, spectacular falls of both Fan and Meng suggest a drastic widening of a dragnet that is primarily about Xi’s consolidation of authority. Since assuming the Presidency, in 2013, he has assiduously preached the supremacy of the Communist Party. Central to “Xi Jinping Thought,” which was enshrined in the Party’s constitution last year, at its annual conference, is the idea that fealty to the Party is no longer a choice but, once again, a duty. As Fan’s confession makes clear, the personal is necessarily political. [...] Western analysts have described the arrest of Meng as a “self-inflicted blow” to the Party’s legitimacy; in conducting a secretive investigation, the theory goes, China has hurt its international profile and damaged global good will. But it’s likely that, in Xi’s calculation, a political threat at home is far costlier than a few unflattering op-eds in the international press. His refusal to submit to international norms may even mark a brash attempt to build a new framework, one underwritten by might rather than by the perception of what is right.

----- 1 star ----

Daniel Radcliffe and the Art of the Fact-Check / New Yorker

Fact: the actor Daniel Radcliffe is currently starring in the Broadway show “The Lifespan of a Fact,” as a magazine fact checker with an aviation inspector’s zeal for accuracy. The play is drawn from a real-life skirmish: in 2005, Jim Fingal, an intern at The Believer, was tasked with fact-checking an essay by John D’Agata (played by Bobby Cannavale), about a teen suicide in Las Vegas. D’Agata had more of a watercolorist’s approach to the truth. When Fingal tried to correct his claim that Las Vegas had thirty-four licensed strip clubs—a source indicated that it was thirty-one—D’Agata said that he liked the “rhythm” of thirty-four. Their epistolary tussle was expanded into a book in 2012. Not long ago, Radcliffe arrived at the offices of this magazine, wearing a maroon cap and a green jacket and clutching a latte. He had come to try his own hand at fact-checking, with the help of The New Yorker’s fact-checking department. Radcliffe had a few things to verify himself. Passing a wall displaying recent New Yorker covers, he said, “That makes me feel a lot better about our play. We’ve talked about whether an editor would have loads of covers in their office. I’m going to go back and say, ‘Yes.’ ”

Horseback Wrestling. Bone Tossing. Dead Goat Polo. Let the Nomad Games Begin! / New York Times

The American team that played a brutal version of polo at the World Nomad Games does not expect the sport to get picked up by the Olympics any time soon. Why not? “We use a dead goat,” said Scott A. Zimmerman, a team co-captain. The game of kok-boru, with its headless goat carcass, was the main attraction at the weeklong international sports competition held this month in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan. Other highlights included bone tossing, hunting with eagles and 17 types of wrestling, including bare-chested horseback wrestling, where the weaker competitor often clings desperately to the animal’s head as spectators roar in anticipation of him hitting the dirt. The organizers hope to resurrect nomadic traditions, especially those of Central Asia, whose cultures were pushed toward extinction by decades of Soviet collectivization and then globalization.

Inside the Guts of the World's Strongest Men / MEL Magazine

No one talks about powerlifters’ epic poop problems — but aside from winning, it’s all they’re thinking about

Hot Peppers – Why Are They Hot? / Science Blogs

So, the hot peppers are a real evolutionary conundrum. On one hand, they are boldly colored and sweet-smelling fruits – obvious sign of advertising to herbivores. On the other hand, once bitten into, they are far too hot and spicy to be a pleasant experience to the animal. So, what gives?

Millennials Kill Again. The Latest Victim? American Cheese / Bloomberg

American (cheese) culture is at a crossroads. The product, made famous by the greatest generation, devoured by boomers on the go and touted as the basis for macaroni and cheese, the well-documented love object of Gen X, has met its match with millennials demanding nourishment from ingredients that are both recognizable and pronounceable.

The Finalists For The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards Are Hysterical / Digg

Everyone likes funny animal photos. That's an indisputable fact. But what rings just as true is that everyone also has a different favorite subgenre of funny animal photos. Some like to see squirrels with their mouths full of corn. For others, seals making goofy faces at each other is what splits their sides. And for others still, a monkey sticking up his middle finger is the pinnacle of humor au naturel. Luckily, this year's Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards features a way for the entire internet to weigh in on their favorite strain of visual humor in its natural habitat.

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