Not many links this week, but the average quality is pretty high...

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

How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet / New Yorker

“Like it or not, we will retreat from most of the world’s non-urban shorelines in the not very distant future,” Orrin Pilkey, an expert on sea levels at Duke University, wrote in his book “Retreat from a Rising Sea.” “We can plan now and retreat in a strategic and calculated fashion, or we can worry about it later and retreat in tactical disarray in response to devastating storms. In other words, we can walk away methodically, or we can flee in panic.” But it’s not clear where to go. As with the rising seas, rising temperatures have begun to narrow the margins of our inhabitation, this time in the hot continental interiors. Nine of the ten deadliest heat waves in human history have occurred since 2000. In India, the rise in temperature since 1960 (about one degree Fahrenheit) has increased the chance of mass heat-related deaths by a hundred and fifty per cent. The summer of 2018 was the hottest ever measured in certain areas. For a couple of days in June, temperatures in cities in Pakistan and Iran peaked at slightly above a hundred and twenty-nine degrees Fahrenheit, the highest reliably recorded temperatures ever measured. The same heat wave, nearer the shore of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, combined triple-digit temperatures with soaring humidity levels to produce a heat index of more than a hundred and forty degrees Fahrenheit. [...] Thirty years ago, some believed that warmer temperatures would expand the field of play, turning the Arctic into the new Midwest. As Rex Tillerson, then the C.E.O. of Exxon, cheerfully put it in 2012, “Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around—we’ll adapt to that.” But there is no rich topsoil in the far North; instead, the ground is underlaid with permafrost, which can be found beneath a fifth of the Northern Hemisphere. As the permafrost melts, it releases more carbon into the atmosphere.

The unbelievable tale of a fake hitman, a kill list, a darknet vigilante... and a murder / Wired

Hitman-for-hire darknet sites are all scams. But some people turn up dead nonetheless [...] “I will assign an operative to your job and it will be done in about a week, is this ok? I will get back to you shortly with an estimated date,” the capo wrote on June 1. Toonbib never answered. On June 9, Bryan Njoroge was found with a fatal gunshot wound to the head, near a baseball field in Clarksville, Indiana. His death was recorded as a suicide. There are no hitmen in this story. There are no sharply dressed assassins screwing silencers on to their Glocks, no operatives assigned, nor capos directing them. There is a website, though – a succession of websites, to be precise – where all those things are made out to be true. Some people fall for it. Looking for a hitman, they download Tor, a browser that uses encryption and a complex relaying system to ensure anonymity, and allows them to access the dark web, where the website exists. Under false names, the website’s users complete a form to request a murder. They throw hundreds of bitcoins into the website’s digital purse. The website’s admin is scamming them: no assassination is ever executed. The admin would dole out a hail of lies for why hits had been delayed, and keep the bitcoins.

52 things I learned in 2018 / Medium

4. 35% of Rwanda’s national blood supply outside the capital city is now delivered by drone.
13. US nuclear testing between the 1940s and 1970s may have killed as many Americans (from radioactive pollution) as were killed by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
19. Air crews are exposed to more radiation than people who work at nuclear power stations.
26. Men who’ve experienced earthquakes are willing to take more risks and gamble more. Women show no such effect.
51. Vanilla pods now cost $500/kg, roughly the same as silver. Madagascan farmers have briefly become vanillionaires, causing chaos in areas where the nearest bank might be a day’s walk away.

Carmelo Anthony is the last great American ball hog / ESPN
By the excellent Kirk Goldsberry:

Last Monday in Chicago, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich arrived at his pregame interview in the gloomy concourse of the United Center, the house that Michael Jordan built. So many of the league's iconic highlights played out here in the 1990s, and those images seemed to be on Pop's mind. In response to a ho-hum question about the state of the Spurs, Pop took the chance to lament the aesthetic of the NBA in 2018. "There's no basketball anymore, there's no beauty in it," he said. It was a startling statement from the best coach of the era, whose own championship team from just five seasons ago played arguably the most beautiful version of the sport we've ever seen. [...] "These days there's such an emphasis on the 3 because it's proven to be analytically correct." That's the perfect choice of words -- "analytically correct" -- to connote the invisible algorithmic hand that now guides virtually all the action we see in NBA arenas. [...] As an analyst, I've been among the foot soldiers in the Moneyball brigade. But as a fan watching while the league chases the efficiency dragon further down the trail, it's worth asking: What are we sacrificing in the process? If present trends continue, we will never see gorgeous midrange monsters like Kobe, Melo, Dirk or Jordan again. That's some of the beauty we will lose, but we will see a lot more Hardens.

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

The Resilience of Costco / Google Drive
This is a random slide deck of unknown provenance, but it is excellent. (Random, pointless aside: over a decade ago, I worked as a consultant for a consumer goods company that provided Costco its highest-quality products at its lowest unit be sold under the Kirkland Signature brand, despite having invested a ton of money in building its own brands. Such was Costco's power, and I was impressed. And even though Costco has stores in the UK, it's not quite the same Costco is one of the few things I'd say I miss about the US.)

So retail is dead, right? Yet Costco is thriving. Sales and profits continue to climb. Customers line up outside. And instead of closing stores, Costco is opening new ones. So what is it about Costco that’s enabled them to buck industry trends? [...] Costco stocks only 4,000 SKUs (versus Walmart’s 120,000 and Amazon’s 600,000,000), with effectively no overlap in each category; customers get one choice of ketchup, one choice of shaving cream, etc. While the conventional wisdom assumes that more selection is inherently better, there are a number of benefits to Costco’s limited approach. They get the best prices from suppliers. Since they’re not stocking more than one brand of any product, Costco is frequently their supplier’s largest or second-largest customer. As such, Costco gets the best prices. [...] Warehouses enable a more efficient use of space. All available space is used to sell product and drive revenue (i.e., there’s no “back room” where additional goods are stored). That makes Costco’s warehouses incredibly efficient; they generate more business per sqft and per store than any other major big box retailer. [...] Costco treats their employees well. They pay the highest wages and provide the best benefits in the industry. The average US retail employee makes $12/hour. The average Costco employee makes $22/hr, and receives health insurance, 401k, company stock, etc. Treating employees well leads to very low rates of attrition. Costco’s annual turnover rate is only 5% (versus the retail industry average of 59%). Strong employee retention reduces hiring and re-training costs, and also keeps employees from going to competitors.

Mueller Is Laying Siege to the Trump Presidency / The Atlantic

It happens this way every time: A big news event in the Trump-Russia investigation takes place, and commentators talk about it as though a house of cards were collapsing or a row of dominoes were falling. Each time, it’s the beginning of the end. Each indictment or plea is the “big one.” And then those expectations are disappointed. The sun rises the next day—in the east, as expected—and it sets in the west, as it did the day before. The Trump presidency endures. [...] The admission that the Trump Organization was working secretly—colluding, one might say—with the Russian government on a business deal late into the campaign and that Trump knew about this activity led many observers, including those quoted above, to treat this latest plea as the turning point for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But the underlying metaphors are wrong. There is no sudden bend in the path of the investigation. There is no house of cards. The dominoes will not fall if gently tipped. The administration is not going to come crashing down in response to any single day’s events. The architecture of Trump’s power is more robust than that. We need to stop thinking of it as a fragile structure waiting for the right poke to fall in on itself. Think instead of the myriad investigations and legal proceedings surrounding the president as a multi-front siege on a walled city that is, in fact, relatively well fortified.

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

How to Spot a Fake Jackson Pollock Painting / Kottke

Forensic scientist Thiago Piwowarczyk and art historian Jeffrey Taylor are often called upon to authenticate purported paintings by well-known artists. Using a drip painting resembling Jackson Pollock’s work, they show how they use historical research, hardcore science, and good-ol’ human observation.

Click here to subscribe and to see previous issues.