----- 4 stars -----

"I Don't Want To Shoot You, Brother" / ProPublica
Superb investigative reporting...and as the piece is narrated so well, instead of my usual heavy excerpting, I'll give you only the teaser:

A shocking story of police and lethal force. Just not the one you might expect.

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

How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime / Miami Herald

His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found. The eccentric hedge fund manager, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, was also suspected of trafficking minor girls, often from overseas, for sex parties at his other homes in Manhattan, New Mexico and the Caribbean, FBI and court records show. Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life. But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved. Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes [...] As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it. This is the story of how Epstein, bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system, and how his accusers, still traumatized by their pasts, believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them.

How a 6-Year-Old Survived Being Lost in the Woods / Outside

As a child, Cody Sheehy made headlines when he vanished into the freezing wilderness of Northeast Oregon, making it out safely after 18 hours of determined slogging. Retracing his steps 32 years later, Sheehy says that getting lost was one of the best life lessons he ever had.

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

Bowel movement: the push to change the way you poo / The Guardian

At first, many people saw the footstool as little more than a joke Christmas present. But, like fresh bed linen and French bulldogs, the Squatty Potty exerts a powerful emotional force on its owners. “I have one and I have to tell you, it will ruin your life,” a Reddit user called chamburgers recently posted. “I can’t poop anywhere but at home with my Squatty Potty. When I have to poop at work I’m left unsatisfied. It’s like climbing into a wet sleeping bag.” Bobby Edwards, who invented the footstool with his mom, calls people like this “evangelists”. “They talk about it at dinner parties, they talk about whenever they can – about how the Squatty Potty has changed their life,” he told me. He sounded almost mystified. The popularity of the Squatty Potty, and the existence of its many rivals and imitators, is one of the clearest signs of an anxiety that’s been growing in the west for the past decade: that we have been “pooping all wrong”. In recent years, some version of that phrase has headlined articles from outlets as diverse as Men’s Health, Jezebel, the Cleveland Clinic medical centre and even Bon Appétit. By giving up the natural squatting posture bequeathed to us by evolution and taking up our berths on the porcelain throne, the proposition goes, we have summoned a plague of bowel trouble. Untold millions suffer from haemorrhoids – in the US alone, some estimates run to 125 million – and millions more have related conditions such as colonic inflammation.

Louisiana School Made Headlines for Sending Black Kids to Elite Colleges. Here’s the Reality. / New York Times

Bryson Sassau’s application would inspire any college admissions officer. A founder of T.M. Landry College Preparatory School described him as a “bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded” student whose alcoholic father had beaten him and his mother and had denied them money for food and shelter. His transcript “speaks for itself,” the founder, Tracey Landry, wrote, but Mr. Sassau should also be lauded for founding a community service program, the Dry House, to help the children of abusive and alcoholic parents. He took four years of honors English, the application said, was a baseball M.V.P. and earned high honors in the “Mathematics Olympiad.” The narrative earned Mr. Sassau acceptance to St. John’s University in New York. There was one problem: None of it was true. “I was just a small piece in a whole fathom of lies,” Mr. Sassau said. T.M. Landry has become a viral Cinderella story, a small school run by Michael Landry, a teacher and former salesman, and his wife, Ms. Landry, a nurse, whose predominantly black, working-class students have escaped the rural South for the nation’s most elite colleges. A video of a 16-year-old student opening his Harvard acceptance letter last year has been viewed more than eight million times. Other Landry students went on to Yale, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Wesleyan. [...] In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.

The Economic Perspective on Moral Standards / Slate Star Codex

Do you know anyone who really satisfies you as being sinless, non-racist, and/or rational? Then perhaps you too believe nobody is good. We shouldn’t immediately dismiss the idea that nobody is good. By our standards, there were many times and places where this was true. I am not aware of any ancient Egyptians who were against slavery. By Roman times, a handful of people thought it might be a bad idea, but nobody lifted a finger to stop it. I doubt you could find any Roman at the intersection of currently acceptable positions on slavery, torture, women’s rights, and sexuality. [...] “Nobody is perfectly good” is, I think, an uncontroversial statement. If “nobody is good” is controversial, it’s because we expect “good” to be a lower bar than “perfectly good”, representing a sort of minimum standard of okayness. It might be possible that nobody meets even a minimum standard of okayness – the Roman example still seems relevant – but we should probably back up further and figure out how we’re setting okayness standards. [...] I think of society setting the targets for “good person” a lot like a CEO setting the targets for “good vacuum salesman”. If they’re attainable and linked to incentives – like praise, honor, and the right to feel proud of yourself – then they’ll make people put in an extra effort so they can end up in the “good person” category. If they’re totally unattainable and nobody can ever be a good person no matter how hard they try, then nobody will bother trying. This doesn’t mean nobody will be good – some people are naturally good without hope for reward, just like some people will slave away for the vacuum company even when they’re underpaid and underappreciated. It just means you’ll lose the extra effort you would get from having a good incentive structure. So what is the right level at which to set the bar for “good person”?

Cam Girl Economics / Marginal Revolution
This piece is fully safe for work, but the piece it links to (which is fascinating) is (very) slightly not I'm linking to Marginal Revolution, since who can blame me for linking to an economics blog?

Former Cam Girl Aella offers a detailed, analytical, and interesting guide to the economics of the industry. [...] Men want a few things, and probably one of the biggest is winning a competition. You see, you’re not just trying to get a guy to pay you – you’re trying to get a guy to pay you in front of a bunch of other guys. This is a super key. A man wants to feel attention from an attractive women on him, and this is made even more satisfying when it’s to the exclusion of those around him. He is showing off his power by buying your happiness. So, when tipped, make sure you say his name (or username). A lot of girls use subtly masculine-competition language when referring to high tippers, such as “hero,” “champion,” or “winner”. I often would ask questions like “who is going to save my night?” or “who is going to be the one to make me feel x”? [...] Just don’t be too obvious about it. All of this stuff I’m saying can be done with too heavy a hand, and then guys feel gross and leave.

Racing Across Antarctica, One Freezing Day at a Time / New York Times

Monday was not an ideal morning to ski in Antarctica. The wind was fast, and a snowstorm was producing whiteout conditions, making the skiing feel like “being inside a Ping-Pong ball,” in the words of the American adventure athlete Colin O’Brady. But there was no time to waste in a race to become the first person to cross Antarctica alone from shore to shore without any aid or support. So when O’Brady and Louis Rudd, a captain in the British Army, unzipped their tents and saw the misery they would experience on the 23rd day of their journey, they confronted itas if it were any other day. They would consume warm fluids and high-calorie snacks, and push through the unmatched exhaustion that comes from hauling a 300-pound Norwegian sled, known as a pulk, for 10 to 12 hours. Each day these two competitors, who have been traveling miles apart from each other and have not communicated with each other, have emerged amid an icy desert to battle the elements and one another. They’ve felt pain and frustration, taken risks and shed tears. As they skied through the whiteout on Monday, they stared at compasses strapped to their chests to stay on course toward the South Pole, unable to see up or down or side to side, with their sleds catching on wavelike ridges of ice known as sastrugi, forcing the occasional tumble. On this expedition, for both men, tripping and falling hard — countless times — is all part of the schedule.

The Link Between August Birthdays and A.D.H.D. / New York Times

In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, we found that among several hundred thousand children who were born between 2007 and 2009 and followed until 2016, rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis and treatment were 34 percent higher among children born in August than among children born in September in states with a Sept. 1 school entry-age cutoff. No such difference was found among children in states with different cutoff dates. The effects were largest among boys. We believe these findings reveal just how subjective the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. can be. In any given class, inattentive behavior among younger, August-born children may be perceived, in some instances, to reflect symptom of A.D.H.D., rather than the relative immaturity that is biologically determined and to be expected among children who are nearly one year younger than September-born classmates.

Is Science Slowing Down? / Slate Star Codex

Is scientific progress slowing down? I recently got a chance to attend a conference on this topic [...] So if you take their methodology seriously, over the past ninety years, each researcher has become about 25x less productive in making discoveries that translate into economic growth. [...] All of these lines of evidence lead me to the same conclusion: constant growth rates in response to exponentially increasing inputs is the null hypothesis. If it wasn’t, we should be expecting 50% year-on-year GDP growth, easily-discovered-immortality, and the like. [...] At the end of the conference, the moderator asked how many people thought that it was possible for a concerted effort by ourselves and our institutions to “fix” the “problem” indicated by BJRW’s trends. Almost the entire room raised their hands. Everyone there was smarter and more prestigious than I was (also richer, and in many cases way more attractive), but with all due respect I worry they are insane. [...] I do know you should be careful what you wish for. If you “solved” this “problem” in classical Athens, Attila the Hun would have had nukes. Remember Yudkowsky’s Law of Mad Science: “Every eighteen months, the minimum IQ necessary to destroy the world drops by one point.” Do you really want to make that number ten points? A hundred? I am kind of okay with the function mapping number of researchers to output that we have right now, thank you very much.

Three Remarkable Things About Michael Cohen's Plea / The Atlantic

These developments would, under normal circumstances, end a presidency. [...] Normally, federal prosecutors don’t waste time with this sort of rubble-bouncing. So why would Mueller spend the time and resources on it? Because it tells a story about Trump and his campaign. Because it lays a marker. It’s not clear whether the Constitution allows Mueller to indict a sitting president. But Department of Justice policy forbids it, and Mueller is a rule-follower. If Mueller thinks that the president has committed a federal crime, his remedy is to recommend impeachment in a report to the attorney general. The attorney general, in turn, is supposed to tell Congress the outcome of the special counsel’s investigation and decide whether the report should be made public. Did you catch the problem? The acting attorney general is Matthew Whitaker, Trump’s creature and a vigorous critic of Mueller’s investigation. Mueller has every reason to expect that Whitaker will suppress the report and limit what he shows to Congress. A formal report is not, however, Mueller’s only way to tell Congress—and the nation—about his conclusions. The journalist Marcy Wheeler has written extensively about her theory that Mueller will “make his report” through court filings against Trump confederates like Manafort and Cohen. On Monday, Mueller accused Manafort of lying to investigators, breaching his cooperation agreement, and committing further federal crimes; he promised he’d bring the receipts when he filed briefs urging a long sentence. Those sentencing briefs will let Mueller tell the story of how Manafort lied about the Trump campaign—and, by extension, lay out the evidence of what the Trump campaign did. Cohen’s case lets Mueller do the same thing—tell a story, make a report. The information—the charging document to which Cohen pleaded, waiving his right to indictment by grand jury—asserts that the Trump Organization planned a hotel in Russia, communicated with Russian officials about it, and even contemplated sending Trump himself for a visit to Russia well into 2016, contrary to Cohen’s congressional testimony that the plan was abandoned in January 2016. The significance is not just that Cohen lied to Congress. The significance is what he lied about: the fact that Team Trump continued to pursue Russian opportunities well into the campaign. Not only that, but the Information also asserts that Cohen kept Trump (whose identity is not at all concealed as “Individual 1”) and others within the campaign informed about his progress in Russia.

----- 1 star -----

The Chinese Farmer Who Live-Streamed Her Life and Made a Fortune / New Yorker

In this landscape of meticulously airbrushed faces and fashion feeds, people were quickly charmed by the loud-mouthed, ruddy-cheeked farmer from the North. Within months, the number of followers to Liu Mama’s channel, “Liu Mama’s Everyday Life,” grew from dozens to several thousand. In response, Liu Mama began streaming herself shucking corn, harvesting tomatoes, and driving around fields, always with a ribald couplet at the tip of her tongue: “You might have a Fe-la-li (Ferrari) / But I have got a tuo-la-ji (tractor).” She dons a bulky coat and Russian-style fur cap during the brutal winters, and a camouflage jacket, gold chain, and sunglasses when she’s feeling lighthearted. She started to draw inspiration from errenzhuan, or “two-person turns,” a traditional form of live comedy sketch that is popular in China and involves a comedic duo poking fun at each other with bawdy jokes.

Why Parmesan Cheese Is So Expensive / YouTube

A wheel of parmesan cheese can cost over $1,000. A single wheel takes at least one year to age, 131 gallons of milk to make, and it can only be made in a restricted area in northern Italy, in the region of Emilia Romagna. We visited a dairy in Parma, Italy to find out how the cheese is made and why it is so expensive.

Legalize Pay Toilets! / Marginal Revolution

Pay toilets are common in Europe but uncommon in the United States. Sophie House writing at City Lab explains why. Pay toilets were made illegal in much of the United States in the 1970s. [...] In any case, CEPTIA was remarkably effective. In 1970 there were some 50,000 pay toilets in America and by 1980 there were almost none. The attentive reader, however, will not be surprised to learn that smashing the pay toilet conspiracy did not result in an abundance of free toilets.

Expert Clarifies What Peasants Ate In The Medieval Ages, And It's Better Than What We Eat Most Of The Time / Digg

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