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

How former ref Tim Donaghy conspired to fix NBA games / ESPN

James "Jimmy" "Bah-Bah" "The Sheep" Battista was a stressed-out, overweight, Oxy-addicted 41-year-old, in the hole to some underground gamblers for sums he'd sort of lost track of, when he settled in to watch an NBA game for which he believed he'd just put in the fix. It was January 2007. A month or so back, not long before Christmas, he'd done something audacious: He'd sat down and cut a deal with an NBA referee. Now he feared the scheme had become too obvious. "You wanna get paid?" Battista had said to the ref. "Then you gotta cover the f---ing spread." The bribe was only two dimes, $2,000 per game -- an outrageous bargain. If the pick won, the ref got his two dimes. If the pick missed, the ref owed nothing; Battista would eat the loss. A "free roll," as they call it. But this referee didn't lose much. His picks were winning at an 88 percent clip, totally unheard of in sports betting for any sustained period of time. They were now entering the sixth week of the scheme -- what you might call a sustained period of time. Battista had known the ref, Timmy Donaghy, for 25 years. They'd gone to the same parochial high school in the working-class Catholic neighborhoods of Delaware County, just outside Philadelphia -- Delco, as it's sometimes called -- where the sports bars are abundant, where a certain easy familiarity with all forms of gambling prevails, where guys have bookies like they've got dentists.

Is the world really getting poorer? A response by Steve Pinker / Why Evolution Is True
A letter to Steven Pinker (and Bill Gates, for that matter) about global poverty / Jason Hickel

I'm closer to Pinker's position on this, but I do think Hickel makes some good, thought-provoking points. But first, Pinker:

The massive fall of global extreme poverty is not a claim advanced by me, Bill Gates, or people who go to Davos, but every politically neutral observer who has looked at the data, including the Nobel laureate economist Angus Deaton in The Great Escape, the United Nations (which declared its Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty as having been met five years ahead of schedule), and other experts in global development [...] It’s not just China, or even China plus India — many poor countries have seen spectacular poverty reductions, including Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Panama, Rwanda, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. This is on top of rich countries that not so long ago were dirt-poor, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. [...] The drastic decline in extreme poverty is corroborated by measures of well-being other than income that are correlated with prosperity, such as longevity, child mortality, maternal mortality, literacy, basic education, undernourishment, and consumption of goods like clothing, food, cell phones, even beer—all have improved.

Your argument is that neoliberal capitalism is responsible for driving the most substantial gains against poverty. This claim is intellectually dishonest, and unsupported by facts. Here’s why: The vast majority of gains against poverty have happened in one region: East Asia. As it happens, the economic success of China and the East Asian tigers – as scholars like Ha-Joon Chang and Robert Wade have long pointed out – is due not to the neoliberal markets that you espouse but rather state-led industrial policy, protectionism and regulation (the same measures that Western nations used to such great effect during their own period of industrial consolidation). They liberalized, to be sure – but they did so gradually and on their own terms. Not so for the rest of the global South. Indeed, these policy options were systematically denied to them, and destroyed where they already existed. From 1980 to 2000, the IMF and World Bank imposed brutal structural adjustment programs that did exactly the opposite: slashing tariffs, subsidies, social spending and capital controls while reversing land reforms and privatizing public assets – all in the face of massive public resistance. [...] You and Gates like to invoke the poverty numbers to make claims about the legitimacy of the existing global economic system. You say the system is working for the poor, so people should stop complaining about it. When it comes to assessing such a claim, it’s really neither absolute numbers nor proportions that matter. What matters, rather, is the extent of global poverty vis-à-vis our capacity to end it. [...] As I pointed out in the Guardian piece, only 5% of new income from global growth goes to the poorest 60% of humanity – people living on less than $7.40/day. You have neither acknowledged this as a problem nor attempted to defend it. Instead you just ignore it, I suppose because it undermines your claims about how well the economy is working for poor people. Here’s how well it’s working: on our existing trajectory, according to research published in the World Economic Review, it will take more than 100 years to end poverty at $1.90/day, and over 200 years to end it at $7.4/day. [...] In your work you have invoked gains in life expectancy and education as part of a narrative that seeks to justify neoliberal globalization. But here again that’s intellectually dishonest. What contributes most to improvements in life expectancy is in fact simple public health interventions (sanitation, antibiotics, vaccines), and what matters for education is, well, public education. Indeed, the countries that have been most successful at this are those that have robust, free healthcare and education. Don’t forget that the US has worse infant mortality than Cuba.

Trevor Bauer Is More Concerned With Being Right Than Being Liked / Sports Illustrated

Trevor Bauer sits on a folding chair in a drafty warehouse, sipping applesauce from a plastic cup and electrocuting his brain. Well, electrifying his brain, actually. Bauer, who values precision, points out that there’s an important difference. To electrocute something means to injure or kill it. But he will spend 20 minutes with one milliamp coursing, not unpleasantly, between the electrodes affixed near his temples in an effort to improve the organ that was already most responsible for his near Cy Young season with the Indians last year—which, he will tell you, should have been a Cy Young season for real. The technique is called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, or tDCS. Studies have suggested that it can temporarily increase synaptic plasticity, thereby helping subjects acquire skills faster. The U.S. military has used tDCS to expand the capabilities of its target analysts, but Bauer’s mission today is to revamp his changeup. “Anything to expedite the learning curve,” he says. [...] “He reminds me of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory,” May says. “He’s the most honest person, and he’s not going to sugarcoat anything. People aren’t used to that.” The Mays were used to it—they are a family of avionics engineers—and a decade later Bauer considers Sonya a second mother and one of his closest friends, a group that isn’t large in part because of his allergy to all things saccharine. Sheldon Cooper is perhaps the most beloved character on TV, but baseball’s Sheldon is widely seen as a villain, or at least a pest. In conversation Bauer’s effect is unremarkable. He relaxes; he smiles. It’s the content of what he says that is different.

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

Financial Windfalls: 15 Stories of the Money That Changed Everything / Topic

Winning the lottery. Having a long-lost relative put you in their will. Selling your TV show. For our Money issue, we interviewed 15 people—and asked writer Ijeoma Oluo to contribute an essay—on the subject of windfalls. How they got their money, and what they did with it, was both as intensely personal, and shaped by cultural expectations, as anything else. [...] The producers mailed me a check via regular mail that had my name on it, no money taken out of it. Literally, it read “To Tony Hightower. The amount of 2-5-0-0-0-0.” I brought it into the bank, and I just showed it to the teller and was like, “What do I do with this?” The teller freaked out. “This is the biggest check I’ve ever seen in my life! You must be so blessed to have gotten this.” “I’m not blessed,” I said. “I worked for this. I answered 12 trivia questions.” Twelve trivia questions, $28,300 per question. At the time, I was running a small trivia business in NYC, hosting one trivia night a week a bar, which paid in cash and drinks. I was doing fine, but it was one of these things where I was living month to month, and I couldn’t afford to expand. (My wife was working toward her PhD at the time.) When I won $23,000 dollars on Jeopardy!, it was enough for me to buy a really nice lounge chair, a couple of toys, a month in Paris, and that was it. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars felt like I should do something meaningful with it, because I didn’t want to wake up one morning and have it be gone.

American Monster / Medium

What I watched that day was, of course, the footage that for the past several decades has kept the improbable on life support and launched many an awed apostle into the thickets of the American Northwest: the infamous Patterson footage of Bigfoot, filmed by Roger Patterson and his sidekick Bob Gimlin in 1967 in Northern California. Patterson’s film is both the True Cross and Turin Shroud for Bigfooters, and like the supposed physical relics of Christ’s crucifixion, it courts about equal shares of votaries and disbelievers. And let it be said, as Bigfooters are always saying: In more than 50 years, nobody has been able to reproduce the gait precisely as the footprints and film have it. Nor has an expert seamstress been able to replicate a suit that convincing. Nor has any high-powered computer or big-brained maestro of science been able to prove conclusively that Patterson faked his film. Or at least that’s what the many recent documentaries and pro-Bigfoot books leave you thinking, despite Roger Patterson himself being of — what’s the word? — dubious character. [...] And yet, Roger Patterson believed, and he’s not alone. According to Chapman University’s Survey of American Fears, more than 20 percent of Americans believe Bigfoot is real, the same number who believe the Big Bang actually happened. More startling is that the belief is spreading: “Americans have become seven percent more likely to believe in Bigfoot in only two years,” the survey reports. What would cause Patterson and innumerable others like him to believe something so palpably absurd? Stupidity and mental illness won’t always suffice as answers; many of the individuals who believe in monsters are otherwise average, functioning citizens. Nor does mere profit motive fully explain it, since most Bigfooters lose money in their pursuit. No, Bigfoot must provide a necessary psycho-emotional ballast, some avenue to our understanding of ourselves, and not just for the many Roger Pattersons of the world.

High risk: anti-vaxxers in the delivery ward / The Guardian

What can a doctor say to a mother who refuses a potentially life-saving treatment for her newborn? [...] Mid-morning, a nurse calls downstairs to tell us that the mother who will have a C-section at noon is declining the vitamin K injection for her baby. Although the trend of refusing neonatal vitamin K feels fresher to me than vaccine refusal, it may just be less publicised. I, like many paediatricians, see an increasing number of refusals. Jen, my intern, sees me grimace. [...] But parents who refuse preventive medicines such as vaccines and vitamin K do think they are protecting their children. They tend to believe that children are under constant threat: from toxins, from medical interference, from corporate conspiracy. As the American writer Eula Biss writes in On Immunity: An Inoculation: “So now it is, in the activist Jenny McCarthy’s words, “the frickin’ mercury, the ether, the aluminum, the antifreeze” that we fear in our vaccines. Our witches’ brew is chemical. There is not actually any ether or antifreeze in vaccines, but these substances speak to anxieties about our industrial world. They evoke the chemicals on which we now blame our bad health.” These parents see a vulnerability similar to the one that I see in their children, but in their minds the threats come from society. “We seem to believe, against all evidence, that nature is entirely benevolent,” Biss writes. The way I see it, society is by no means benign, but it does offer vaccines and vitamin K as safeguards against threats that come from nature. [...] She looks down into the baby’s face as she replies, so softly I almost don’t catch it. “I don’t believe it is right to pierce his holy body with a needle,” she says. At that, my heart softens, because this is the kind of objection I feel for. It is not based on risks that science has proven are imaginary, or on false notions of “toxins”, or fear of chemicals that occur naturally in foods and the soil and are added to medicines. This mother’s child is holy, and his body is perfect and we ought to leave it be.

Did Capital Punishment Create Morality? / New Yorker

A new book argues that violence—specifically, the killing of alpha males—laid the foundation for virtue. [...] The story that Richard Wrangham tells in his new book, “The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution,” isn’t quite definitive—it is still a work in progress—but it’s very impressive. Wrangham, a primatologist at Harvard, has spent his career studying the great apes, especially chimpanzees, bonobos, and us. He is perhaps best known for the book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” published in 2009. In that highly original work, he argued that the discovery, made around 1.9 million years ago, that applying fire to food makes it more palatable transformed human destiny. It did this biochemically, because food contains much more energy when cooked—energy that fuelled a large increase in the size of our brain—and sociologically, by giving rise to the sexual division of labor and, specifically, marriage. [...] In organisms selecting against such aggression, the migration of neural-crest cells—a special kind of cell that carries developmental instructions throughout the embryo and fetus—is delayed, resulting in smaller bodies, smaller brains, hormonal changes, and the rest. Studies have been fairly clear on this. What has been unclear is why human communities selected against reactive aggression. For Wrangham, the answer is that group life requires a minimum of stability. No trait is more disruptive than reactive aggression, which fuels such behaviors as quests for dominance and demands for submission; arrogance, bullying, and random violence; and the monopolizing of food and females. That is a behavioral profile of the alpha male, the arch-reactive aggressor. Communities must either endure such pests or eliminate them. Once humans could communicate (the origin of language can’t be further narrowed down than three hundred thousand to five hundred thousand years ago, but empathy or “shared intentionality” appears to be independent of language and might be sufficient for communication), the die was cast. The origin of domestication, Wrangham proposes, was the group execution of alpha males. Civilization is founded on capital punishment—or, to give it its anthropological name, “coalitionary proactive aggression.”

Amazon and taxes: a simple primer / Marginal Revolution
NY State Budget Director on Amazon / Marginal Revolution

The main reason Amazon as a corporate entity does not pay much in taxes is because the company so vigorously reinvests its profit. The resulting expensing provisions lower their tax liabilities, in some cases down to zero or near-zero. That is in fact the kind of incentive our tax system is supposed to create, and does so only imperfectly, noting that many economists have suggested moving to full expensing. [...] Amazon pays plenty in terms of payroll taxes and also state and local taxes. Nor should you forget the taxes paid by Amazon’s employees on their wages. Not only is that direct revenue to various levels of government, but the incidence of those taxes falls somewhat on Amazon, which now must pay higher wages to offset the tax burden faced by their employees. [...] There is no $3 billion that NYC gets to keep if Amazon does not show up. That “money” was a pledged reduction in Amazon’s future tax burden at the state and local level. When it comes to the discussion surrounding Amazon and taxes, I can only sigh…

The open letter on Amazon from Robert Mujica, New York State’s Budget Director, is on fire. It shines an unflattering light on many people involved in the Amazon decision but its analysis of twitter mobs goes well beyond Amazon. [...] Make no mistake, at the end of the day we lost $27 billion, 25,000-40,000 jobs and a blow to our reputation of being ‘open for business.’ The union that opposed the project gained nothing and cost other union members 11,000 good, high-paying jobs. The local politicians that catered to the hyper-political opposition hurt their own government colleagues and the economic interest of every constituent in their district. The true local residents who actually supported the project and its benefits for their community are badly hurt. Nothing was gained and much was lost. This should never happen again.

The Fishy Mystery of Lake Malawi / Smithsonian

If that’s the usual understanding of Darwinian evolution, the myriad cichlids of Lake Malawi pose a real challenge to it. Some 850 species have descended from the original cichlids that swam into the lake one or two million years ago. This extraordinary diversity has long puzzled evolutionary biologists, especially because, unlike the Galápagos finches, the cichlid species aren’t necessarily separated by geographical barriers. Many of them live together in the same populations, where nothing in the environment prevents them from mixing with one another. Different species of mbunas will all feed on the algae carpeting the rocks and the tiny creatures within it—and yet a fish will patiently seek a mate of its own species rather than breed with another.

Great Glass Coffin Scam: When Hucksters Sold the Fantasy of Death Without Decay / Collectors Weekly

"One More Opportunity Knocks at Your Door,” declared an advertisement in the November 9, 1916, issue of the “Oklahoma City Times.” The tantalizing notice shared column space with sales pitches for hair tonics and headache cures and offered its own remedy for one of life’s mortal problems. The ad copy guaranteed that this business venture was fail-safe, with shares of stocks ready to be purchased. The demand for this wondrous new product would only increase, as there would always be new customers in need of such a service. It was “water and vermin proof,” it would “last in the earth forever,” and it would not “permit our loved ones to live in a pond of water as is usually the case.” It was a glass coffin. The opportunity knocking was a solution to the rot of death; it would save the body from the grip of the grim reaper, which decayed flesh to bone. “There is no comparison between it and any other casket manufactured at the present time, and they will be put in competition with all other grades of burial caskets—even to the common wooden ones,” it continued. Unlike wooden caskets, it would not rot. It would preserve flesh from the elements; it would secure the departed from the dirt and worms. An accompanying photograph depicts the American Glass Casket Company Plant in Ada, Oklahoma. In a June 6, 1918, issue of the “North Carolina Christian Advocate,” the DeCamp Glass Casket Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee, similarly compared the opportunity to being an original investor in “Ford, Coca-Cola or Bell Telephone.”

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

Things I Never Knew About Skiing Until I Was a Private Instructor in Aspen / Bloomberg

Slopeside shenanigans, gallons of sprayed Champagne, celebrities behaving badly, and… ski gangs? It’s all in a day’s work at Aspen.

Russell Westbrook analysis, 2019: Who needs efficiency? / YouTube [Thinking Basketball]

Russell Westbrook is having an historically bad shooting year. But what about the other elements of his game? How valuable is he despite his inefficient shooting? This detailed film breakdown & scouting report examine the strengths and weaknesses of the Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard while incorporating analytics & stats to assess his overall impact.

A Detailed Map of Medieval Trade Routes in Europe, Asia, and Africa / Kottke

Grad student Martin Jan Månsson has created this incredibly detailed map of trade route networks in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Every Best Picture Winner. Ever. (1927-2019 Oscars) / YouTube [Burger Fiction]

The 2019 Oscars are just around the corner! And to celebrate, we've got a great new update to our best picture academy award video from last year. We've added last year's winner, this year's nominees, and a few other updates and additions throughout the video. Enjoy!

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