Really good set this week

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

An Epidemic of Disbelief / The Atlantic

As Spada wandered through the warehouse, he made another discovery, one that would help uncover a decades-long scandal, not just in Detroit but across the country. He noticed rows of steel shelving lined with white cardboard boxes, 10 inches tall and a foot wide, stacked six feet high. What are those? he asked a Detroit police officer who was accompanying him. Rape kits, the officer said. “I’m assuming they’ve been tested?” Spada said. “Oh, they’ve all been tested.” Spada pulled out a box and peered inside. The containers were still sealed, indicating that the evidence had never been sent to a lab. He opened four more boxes: the same. “I tried to do a quick calculation,” he later told me. “I came up with approximately 10,000.” Spada’s estimate was conservative. Eventually 11,341 untested rape kits were found, some dating back more than 30 years—each one a hermetically sealed testament to the most terrifying minutes of a woman’s life, each one holding evidence that had been swabbed or plucked from the most private parts of her body. And in all likelihood, some microscopic part of her assailant—his DNA, his identity—sat in that kit as well. Or kits. Eric Eugene Wilkes was known to Detroit police for robbery and carjacking. Not for rape. Yet Wilkes’s DNA was in boxes scattered throughout the warehouse, even as he walked free. His DNA first arrived there more than 18 years ago, after he raped a woman waiting for a bus on December 26, 2000. It next appeared after another rape four months later. Three days after that, police shelved the untested kit from his third victim. [...] But the rape-kit scandal has turned out to be only a visible symptom, a mole on the skin that hints at a pervasive cancer just below the surface. The deeper problem is a criminal-justice system in which police officers continue to reflexively disbelieve women who say they’ve been raped—even in this age of the #MeToo movement, and even when DNA testing can confirm many allegations. From the moment a woman calls 911 (and it is almost always a woman; male victims rarely report sexual assaults), a rape allegation becomes, at every stage, more likely to slide into an investigatory crevice. Police may try to discourage the victim from filing a report. If she insists on pursuing a case, it may not be assigned to a detective. If her case is assigned to a detective, it will likely close with little investigation and no arrest. If an arrest is made, the prosecutor may decline to bring charges: no trial, no conviction, no punishment. Each year, roughly 125,000 rapes are reported across the United States. Sometimes the decision to close a case is surely correct; no one wants to smear an innocent man’s reputation or curtail his freedom because of a false report. But in 49 out of every 50 rape cases, the alleged assailant goes free—often, we now know, to assault again. Which means that rape—more than murder, more than robbery or assault—is by far the easiest violent crime to get away with. [...] To police officers who haven’t been trained to spot signs of trauma, many rape victims appear to be lying. Why was she laughing when she gave her statement? Why was she so flat and unemotional? One Detroit detective told Campbell that a victim should be “a complete hot mess. They should be crying. They should be very, very traumatized.” But research finds that many victims don’t respond in a predictable fashion. This goes for their behavior during the assault as well as after: Why didn’t she fight? Why didn’t she run? Liz Garcia used to tell people that she would fight like crazy if a stranger ever came into her house. “I don’t say that anymore. I could have had all the weapons in the world in my house. But I couldn’t grab a weapon. He was taller, bigger; there was no fighting him.” One survivor told me she offered her assailant a glass of iced tea, hoping her courtesy would dissuade him. Another tried to politely decline the assault: You don’t have to do that. It’s fine. Yet another pretended she was enjoying herself, hoping he wouldn’t kill her afterward.

The Havana Job / Medium

When three CIA agents bungle their way into Fidel Castro’s clutches on the eve of the most dangerous international standoff of the 20th century, they are sentenced to Cuba’s most notorious prison, the Isle of Pines. Escape seems impossible. This is the previously classified story of a Hail Mary plan, a Dirty Dozen crew of lowlifes, and a woman who wouldn’t bow to authority as she fought to bring them home.

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

Kicked Off The Land / New Yorker

Between 1910 and 1997, African-Americans lost about ninety per cent of their farmland. This problem is a major contributor to America’s racial wealth gap; the median wealth among black families is about a tenth that of white families. Now, as reparations have become a subject of national debate, the issue of black land loss is receiving renewed attention. A group of economists and statisticians recently calculated that, since 1910, black families have been stripped of hundreds of billions of dollars because of lost land. Nathan Rosenberg, a lawyer and a researcher in the group, told me, “If you want to understand wealth and inequality in this country, you have to understand black land loss.” [...] They expected to argue their case in court that day. Instead, the judge ordered them sent to jail, for civil contempt. Hearing the ruling, Melvin handed his eighty-three-year-old mother, Gertrude, his flip phone and his gold watch. As the eldest son, he had promised relatives that he would assume responsibility for the family. “I can take it,” he said. Licurtis looked at the floor and shook his head. He had thought he’d be home by the afternoon; he’d even left his house unlocked. The bailiff, who had never booked anyone in civil superior court, had only one set of handcuffs. She put a cuff on each brother’s wrist, and led them out the back door. The brothers hadn’t been charged with a crime or given a jury trial. Still, they believed so strongly in their right to the property that they spent the next eight years fighting the case from jail, becoming two of the longest-serving inmates for civil contempt in U.S. history. [...] Ray Winbush, the director of the Institute for Urban Research, at Morgan State University, told me, “There is this idea that most blacks were lynched because they did something untoward to a young woman. That’s not true. Most black men were lynched between 1890 and 1920 because whites wanted their land.” By the second half of the twentieth century, a new form of dispossession had emerged, officially sanctioned by the courts and targeting heirs’-property owners without clear titles. These landowners are exposed in a variety of ways. They don’t qualify for certain Department of Agriculture loans to purchase livestock or cover the cost of planting. Individual heirs can’t use their land as collateral with banks and other institutions, and so are denied private financing and federal home-improvement loans. They generally aren’t eligible for disaster relief. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina laid bare the extent of the problem in New Orleans, where twenty-five thousand families who applied for rebuilding grants had heirs’ property. One Louisiana real-estate attorney estimated that up to a hundred and sixty-five million dollars of recovery funds were never claimed because of title issues.

The Launch / California Sunday Magazine

After two decades of research and development, WA 38 lands this fall. It could disrupt an entire industry. It's an apple. [...] The Cosmic Crisp is debuting on grocery stores after this fall’s harvest, and in the nervous lead-up to the launch, everyone from nursery operators to marketers wanted me to understand the crazy scope of the thing: the scale of the plantings, the speed with which mountains of commercially untested fruit would be arriving on the market, the size of the capital risk. People kept saying things like “unprecedented,” “on steroids,” “off the friggin’ charts,” and “the largest launch of a single produce item in American history.” McDougall took me to the highest part of his orchard, where we could look down at all its hundreds of very expensively trellised and irrigated acres (he estimated the costs to plant each individual acre at $60,000 to $65,000, plus another $12,000 in operating costs each year), their neat, thin lines of trees like the stitching over so many quilt squares. “If you’re a farmer, you’re a riverboat gambler anyway,” McDougall said. “But Cosmic Crisp — woo!” I thought of the warning of one former fruit-industry journalist that, with so much on the line, the enormous launch would have to go flawlessly: “It’s gotta be like the new iPhone.”

A Demonstration of 16 Levels of Piano Playing Complexity / Kottke

Watch, listen, and learn as pianist and composer Nahre Sol plays what you might think of as a very simple song, Happy Birthday, in 16 increasing levels of complexity. She starts out using a single finger and ends by playing an original composition that seemingly requires 12 or 13 fingers to play. This gave me, a musical dunce, a tiny glimpse into what a composer does.

How Britain can help you get away with stealing millions: a five-step guide / The Guardian

The British government is supposedly committed to tackling grand corruption and financial crime, yet Britain’s involvement in this mega-scandal has never been mentioned in parliament, or been addressed by ministers. It is far from the first time that British companies have been involved in high-profile money-laundering. Among the characters who have used British shell companies to hide their money are Paul Manafort, disgraced former chairman of Donald Trump’s election campaign, and Viktor Yanukovich, overthrown president of Ukraine, among thousands of lower-profile opportunists. It is increasingly hard to avoid the conclusion that Britain tolerates this kind of behaviour deliberately, because of the money it brings into to our economy. That being so, why should hardened criminals be the only ones getting rich off Britain’s lax enforcement? Here’s how you too can use British shell companies to cleanse your dirty money – in five easy steps. [...] Steps 1-4: A brief recap. So, to summarise the tricks so far, if you want to create an impenetrable weapon for committing fraud: first, forget about the supposed offshore centres and come to the UK; then take advantage of the super-easy Companies House web portal; then enter false information; and finally make sure that information is plausible enough to deceive a casual observer. We’re nearly there. It’s time for the final step. Step 5: Don’t worry about it. I know what you’re thinking: it cannot be this easy. Surely you’ll be arrested, tried and jailed if you try to follow this five-step process. But if you look at what British officials do, rather than at what they say, you’ll begin to feel a lot more secure. The Business Department has repeatedly been warned that the UK is facilitating this kind of financial crime for the best part of a decade, and is yet to take any substantive action to stop it. (Though, to be fair, it did recently launch a “consultation”.)

New Coke Didn’t Fail. It Was Murdered. / Mother Jones

The popular version goes like this: In the early 1980s, not content with producing the world’s most recognizable beverage, greedy executives tweaked the recipe for the first time in 94 years. They redesigned the can, launched a massive marketing blitz, and promised a better taste. But Americans wouldn’t stand for it. In the face of a nationwide backlash, the company brought back the old formula—now dubbed “Coke Classic”—after two months. The story of New Coke is eternal. It’s a parable of hubris. It’s also a lie. Far from the dud it’s been made out to be, New Coke was actually delicious—or at least, most people who tried it thought so. Some of its harshest critics couldn’t even taste a difference. It was done in by a complicated web of interests, a mixture of cranks and opportunists—a sugar-starved mob of pitchfork-clutching Andy Rooneys, powered by the thrill of rebellion and an aggrieved sense of dispossession. At its most fundamental level, the backlash wasn’t about New Coke at all. It was a revolt against the idea of change. That story should sound familiar. We’re still living it. [...] When Oliver, the author of The Real Coke, The Real Story, started digging around, the rest of Mullins’ story started to unravel. Old Cola Drinkers of America didn’t start off as a populist campaign. It was a hustle, plain and simple. Its founder hoped to sow conflict and cash in on it by getting either Coca-Cola or Pepsi to buy him out. It was an astroturf operation—or at least it would have been if either company had ponied up. After Coke Classic was reintroduced, Mullins even asked Coca-Cola to pay him $200,000 for an endorsement. (The company declined.)

“Your Judge Is Your Destiny” / Topic

Once in detainment, it is much more difficult for migrants to win asylum. Cases move quickly, which gives asylum seekers less time to gather evidence related to their persecution; in detention, gathering evidence from the outside, such as affidavits from witnesses, can be all but impossible. Detained immigrants are also less likely to have a lawyer, especially if they are locked up far from metro areas, a fact that further decreases their chances of being granted asylum. Pine Prairie is about three hours from New Orleans and Houston, and about two hours from Baton Rouge. Asylum seekers at Pine Prairie also face one of the toughest immigration judges in the country: Agnelis L. Reese, 63, who was appointed to the court in 1997 by then-attorney general Janet Reno. (Reese is a registered Democrat.) The judge keeps a low public profile, but among attorneys in Louisiana, her reputation is feared. According to data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees our nation’s immigration courts, Judge Reese has presided over more than 200 asylum hearings during the past five years. The applicants who have stood before her have come from all across the globe: Somalia, Eritrea, Mexico, Cameroon, Honduras. Some have lawyers, some do not; it makes little difference. Unique among her peers, during the past five years, Reese has rejected every single case. [...] In February, Reese denied N.’s asylum, deeming him not credible in part because during the “credible fear” section of his asylum interview, held the previous September, he hadn’t mentioned an earlier arrest, in 2006, or the fact that his brother had been disappeared. She also described his two escapes as “miraculous” and “a little bit too coincidental.” Over the phone, N., who is appealing the decision, tells me that “everyone here who has gone before [Reese] comes back in tears. I keep asking, of the hundreds of people that passed before her, none of us are credible?” I ask N. about the current situation in Cameroon, and he goes momentarily quiet. His kids have gone into hiding, he says. Earlier this month, he got an update from another family member. “The people who left the note came back and shot my wife. She’s in the hospital now.” He begins to weep. Then our time is up and the line goes dead.

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

The Battle of Grace Church / The Cut

What happened when Brooklyn’s oldest nursery school decided to become less old-fashioned? A riot among the one percent.

Thirty-two years after the Rainbow Warrior bombing, unrepentant French spy Christine Cabon is found / Stuff

A name. Then an address. Then a phone number, in the small village of Lasseubetat, in the southwest of France. For days, the phone rings unanswered – until finally, she picks up. Christine Cabon is civil, gracious even. New Zealand was a "magnificent" country, she recalls. "I have fond memories of New Zealand and of the people I met," she says. At 66, the local councillor lives a peaceful life with her four dogs, her garden, her civic duties to the good people of Lasseubetat and as the town's unofficial historian. Initially, though, she is not interested in discussing her own role in history. Negotiating conversation while directing her dog ("Excuse me for a second, my dog is trying to eat one of my socks. I have to get it before he swallows it!") she politely, but firmly, declines to talk about the bombing. Cabon has watched from remote seclusion as others broke their silence. Mafart and Prieur – the agents arrested posing as a Swiss couple – each wrote books. The man who set the bomb on the ship – Jean-Luc Kister – publicly apologised to New Zealand on national television. Not for her, such outpourings. "Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express myself but I do not intend to go off the reservation," she says. "It's an ethical question." Sometimes she gets frustrated hearing only one version of the events, but says she will respect her contractual obligation to the army – which forbids her speaking for 50 years after seeing active service. Yet over the following days, she opens up gradually, sometimes defensively. So does she have anything to say to the New Zealand public? "My job was what it was," she says. "I entered the army to prevent international and national conflict because my family, originally from Alsace, suffered from the war. My career choice is my problem but I ended up [involved in the Rainbow Warrior affair] as a result of my choice. I think all military people who serve their countries can find themselves in situations they hadn't wished for."

This little-known inventor has probably saved your life / BBC

In 1953, the department loaned him to an expert panel trying to solve a costly and distressing mystery: why did the British de Havilland Comet, the world's first commercial jet airliner and the great hope of the new Jet Age, keep crashing? He thought it might be the fuel tanks; but there were dozens of possible causes and nothing but death and debris as evidence. The panel sat down to discuss what they knew. "People were rattling on about staff training and pilots' errors, and did a fin break off the tail, and all sorts of things that I knew nothing about," Dr Warren recalled more than 50 years later. "I found myself dreaming of something I'd seen the week before at Sydney's first post-war trade fair. And that is - what claimed to be the first pocket recorder, the Miniphon. A German device. There'd been nothing before like it…" The Miniphon was marketed as a dictation machine for businessmen, who could sit at their desks (or on trains and planes) recording letters that would later be typed up by their secretaries. David, who loved swing music and played the clarinet, only wanted one so he could make bootleg recordings of the jazz musician Woody Herman. However, when one of his fellow scientists suggested the latest doomed Comet might have been hijacked, something clicked for him. The chances that a recorder had been on board - and survived the fiery wreck - were basically nil. But what if every plane in the sky had a mini recorder in the cockpit? If it was tough enough, accident investigators would never be this confused again, because they'd have audio right up to the moment of the crash. At the very least, they'd know what the pilots had said and heard. The idea fascinated him. Back at ARL, he rushed to tell his boss about it. Alas, his superior didn't share his enthusiasm. Dr Warren said he was told: "It's nothing to do with chemistry or fuels. You're a chemist. Give that to the instruments group and get on with blowing up fuel tanks."

The Curious Case of the Socialite Who Sterilized Her Daughter / Narratively

Did Maryon Cooper Hewitt want to suppress “bad genes” or steal her child’s inheritance? Their battle over genetics and motherhood riveted the nation in 1936.

My 9 Months on the Road With Fan Bingbing, China’s Biggest Movie Star / Medium

A decade before her disappearance, the Angelina Jolie of China hired me as her tutor. I got a crash course in China’s dizzying celebrity-industrial complex. [...] It would have been easy enough for Bingbing to locate a qualified tutor in Beijing, where thousands of American and British professionals were staking their claims in a rapidly modernizing China. But like me, she wanted a shortcut. In her case, that meant hiring a tutor in a language she never intended to learn. As a result, for nine months I was afforded a backstage pass to China’s celebrity-industrial complex. Bingbing’s PR manager gave me permission to photograph freely while on the job, and I figured I could use my access to shoot a new “behind-the-scenes” photo essay on the Chinese entertainment industry. Little did I guess the extent to which I would become a part of the story myself. Shortly after landing the job, I found myself on a plane from Beijing to Shandong with Bingbing’s entourage. When we arrived at her suite in the Qingdao Shangri-La, she looked down and noticed my new shoes. “Are they real?” she asked in English. “Of course,” I replied with a wink. The actress laughed and flashed a knowing smile.

Model hallucinations / Aeon

Psychedelics have a remarkable capacity to violate our ideas about ourselves. Is that why they make people better?

Killed for spying: The story of the first factory / BBC

Piedmont, in north-west Italy, is celebrated for its fine wine. But when a young Englishman, John Lombe, travelled there in the early 18th Century, he was not going to savour a glass of Barolo. His purpose was industrial espionage. Lombe wished to figure out how the Piedmontese spun strong yarn from silkworm silk. Divulging such secrets was illegal, so Lombe sneaked into a workshop after dark, sketching the spinning machines by candlelight. In 1717, he took those sketches to Derby in the heart of England. Local legend has it that the Italians took a terrible revenge on Lombe, sending a woman to assassinate him. Whatever the truth of that, he died suddenly at the age of 29, just a few years after his Piedmont adventure. While Lombe may have copied Italian secrets, the way he and his older half-brother used them was completely original. The Lombes were textile dealers, and seeing a shortage of the strong silk yarn called organzine, they decided to go big. In the centre of Derby, beside the fast-flowing River Derwent, the Lombe brothers built a structure that was to be imitated around the world: a long, slim, five-storey building with plain brick walls cut by a grid of windows. The building, completed in 1721, housed three dozen large machines powered by a 7m-high waterwheel. It was a dramatic change in scale from what had been done before. The age of the large factory had begun with a thunderclap.

Caution on Bias Arguments / Slate Star Codex

Correcting for bias is important. Learning about specific biases, like confirmation bias or hindsight bias, can be helpful. But bias arguments – “People probably only believe X because of their bias, so we should ignore people who say X” tend to be unproductive and even toxic. Why? [...] This is called the hostile media effect, though it’s broader than just the media. I’ve talked about it before in against bravery debates. My favorite example is conservatives complaining that the media condemns far-right terrorism but excuses Islamic terrorism alongside liberals complaining that the media condemns Islamic terrorism but excuses far-right terrorism. Or if you prefer facts to anecdotes: according to a Gallup poll, conservatives are more likely to believe the news has a liberal bias; liberals are more likely to believe the news has a conservative bias. In a study where experimenters showed partisans a trying-to-be-neutral video on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the pro-Israel people said the video was biased toward Palestine, and the pro-Palestine people said the video was biased towards Israel. [...] Someone asks me “Are you sure you don’t just hold that opinion because of the liberal Jewish milieu you grew up in?” I look deep into my brain, the opinion still sounds right, I don’t see a sticker on the opinion saying “Proud product of the liberal Jewish milieu you grew up in”, and…then what? Do I drop the opinion even though it still seems right? Do I keep holding the opinion, but feel guilty about it? Do I retort back “Aha, no, you only hold your opinion because of the conservative Gentile milieu you grew up in, so you should drop your opinion!”?

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

Jony Ive’s Mistakes: When Beautiful Design Is Bad Design / Medium

I interviewed Jony Ive twice: once in 2002, immediately after the launch of the “sunflower” iMac (which looked, at first glance, like an Anglepoise lamp with a screen) and then again in 2014, at the launch of the Apple Watch. Both times, the tricky thing was maneuvering the ebb and flow of the conversation between the things he was really keen to talk about, and the ones where he couldn’t seem to find the words for what he wanted to describe. In my writeup of the first interview, I said that in those latter moments he sounded “like a man trying to describe God to a world without religion.” [...] All of the plaudits for Jony Ive begin with how he and Steve Jobs saved Apple with the iMac. No doubt about it: that instantly recognizable shape became an icon, and led to thousands of imitations using translucent colored plastic, often in that same Bondi Blue, to show that they were part of the late-90s vibe. In a sense, the iMac was a triumph of packaging: the components inside were pretty straightforward. If Apple had put them into a beige box, the company would now be a historical footnote. Yet what’s almost universally overlooked in the paeans to Ive’s design legacy is that the fabulous iMac design also included one of his worst mistakes: the “hockey puck” mouse, whose round shape was so unfriendly to the human hand that it effectively kickstarted the market for third-party USB mice out of thin air. [...] The quote often attributed to Einstein is “everything must be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” I think the trouble was that Ive often ignored the second part of that advice in the pursuit of refinement.

About the basketball gods / Ken Pomeroy

There is often heated debate in basketball circles whether the basketball gods exist. Such a discussion seems absurd, like whether the Big Foot, Nessie, or Chessie is real. People have claimed to see those creatures, but nobody has ever gotten a picture or any other convincing evidence they exist. Nobody has ever produced compelling evidence of the existence of the basketball gods, either. But you, dear reader, are about to see it. [...] If you’re at a game, you’ve noticed that once the buzzer sounds someone on the staff of each team makes a beeline to the scorer’s table to acquire a pile of halftime box scores to distribute to the coaching staff for review. If the coaches could look at just one thing in that box score, what should it be? Of course, points are the most important thing in the box score. But then what? Let’s take a look at all of the cases of a game being tied at half in a regular-season conference game over the past ten seasons. That removes points as a consideration while also removing non-conference games, where the home team is often the better team. That gives us 1,262 games. Now we can get to the fun of determining which box score stat has best predicted the eventual winner of these tied games. [...] When the team with more steals in the first half is the home team, they win 58.4% of the time, which is 0.6% more than normal. There is a similar improvement for the road team when it has the steal advantage. It’s not nothing, but close to it. Rather than bore you – a person whose time is clearly valuable – with the results for every single box score stat, let’s cut to the chase. I haven’t found a more useful one than this: 3-point percentage. The rise of the 3-point shot has changed the game in profound ways and maybe we should have expected that this would be the most important thing. However, it’s the team with (insert record-scratching noise) the worst 3-point percentage in the first half that is more likely to win. [...] You may not get excited about a 3.5% improvement in winning percentage but you probably aren’t real fun at parties either. We only have 20 minutes of data to work with here and somehow 3-point percentage – as variable as it is over the course of a 30+ game season – ends up being the most useful thing in the box score. You get a 7% boost in win probability relative to your opponent for shooting worse from 3.

The big scoop: what a day with an ice-cream man taught me about modern Britain / The Guardian

You are only allowed to play the ice-cream jingle for a maximum of 12 seconds, when the van is approaching its destination. But Tony Roach flicks off the Popeye tune after only a moment’s airtime. “That wasn’t 12 seconds!” I wail. Roach blinks and looks at me oddly, then promises to play it for longer next time. There’s something about ice-cream vans that brings out the child in all of us. I’m riding shotgun in a pink-and-cream 2009 Whitby Morrison Millennium, accompanying Roach on the same round of Eastbourne, his hometown, that he has been doing for 40 years. The weather is warm, the sky is cloudless. Humming the Popeye tune under my breath, I help myself to another flake from the box above the fridge. It’s going to be a good day. Known to all as Ice-Cream Tony, 57-year-old Roach learned to scoop practically before he could walk. His father, Paul, was in the trade. “All I can remember is ice-cream vans,” says Roach. “From the age of six, I was going with my dad in the ice-cream van and helping. It’s all I wanted to do.” Paul taught him how to repair the refrigeration units and the engine. Most mechanics won’t touch ice-cream vans because they are complex vehicles, so, like an astronaut going into space, you have to be prepared to fix everything yourself. After his father died, Roach restored his 1972 Bedford CF Morrison van. It was an emotional task. “He was a great geezer. An ice-cream man through and through.”

This bunk bed is $1,200 a month, privacy not included / CNN

Housing costs have become so expensive in some cities that people are renting bunk beds in a communal home for $1,200 a month. Not a bedroom. A bed. PodShare is trying to help make up for the shortage of affordable housing in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles by renting dormitory-style lodging and providing tenants a co-living experience. PodShare membership allows you to snag any of the 220 beds -- or pods -- at six locations across Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. There's no deposit and no commitment. You get a bed, a locker, access to wifi and the chance to meet fellow "pod-estrians." Each pod includes a shelf and a personal television. Food staples, like cereal and ramen, and toiletries like toothpaste and toilet paper, are also included. What you don't get? Privacy.

Is Democracy Doomed? / Marginal Revolution

Democracies are much richer than non-democracies and their wealth has made them the envy of the world. The close correlation between democracy, high GDP per capita, and economic, military, and cultural power has made modernity appear to be a package deal. When people look at rich, powerful countries they typically see a democracy and they think, “I want that.” At the same time, however, the academic literature on the causal effect of democracy on growth has shown at best weak results. [...] In other words, if the average nondemocracy in their sample had transitioned to a democracy its GDP per capita would have increased from $2074 to $2489 in 25 years (i.e. this is the causal effect of democracy, ignoring other factors changing over time). Twenty percent is better than nothing and better than dictatorship but it’s weak tea. GDP per capita in the United States is about 20% higher than in Sweden, Denmark or Germany and 40% higher than in France but I don’t see a big demand in those countries to adopt US practices. Indeed, quite the opposite! If we want countries to adopt democracy, twenty percent higher GDP in 25 years is not a big carrot.

Fork Calligraphy-Çatal Kaligrafi (Yazı Yolcusu) / YouTube

Zoning Out Shade / Marginal Revolution

Is it too hot to walk around the block? Sure, blame global warming, but in many parts of the country there is also a noticeable absence of shade. Why? As Nolan Gray, a city planner in New York, argues one reason is that shade has been zoned out.

They finally built a better ketchup bottle. And soon it’s going to be everywhere. / Washington Post

Remember when ketchup turned upside down? Or when half gallons of milk grew plastic screw caps on their sides? We are resistant to change in food packaging, attached to our squeezy honey bear, Toblerone’s triangular prism, the resealable paperboard tube that houses Pringles’s neat stack of hyperbolic paraboloid chips. But what if there’s a better way? (Seriously, try going back to doing the pinchy-pully motion to open the cardboard wings of a milk carton without mauling things.) Something new is coming and soon you will scarcely remember when it didn’t exist. It’s called the Standcap Inverted Pouch.

Neil and Buzz Barely Got Out of the Infield / Kottke

With the 50th anniversary of the first crewed landing on the Moon fast approaching, I thought I’d share one of my favorite views of the Moon walk, a map of where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon, superimposed over a baseball field (bigger). The Lunar Module is parked on the pitcher’s mound and you can see where the two astronauts walked, set up cameras, collected samples, and did experiments. This map easily illustrates something you don’t get from watching video of the Moon walk: just how close the astronauts stayed to the LM and how small an area they covered during their 2 and 1/2 hours on the surface. The crew had spent 75+ hours flying 234,000 miles to the Moon and when they finally got out onto the surface, they barely left the infield!

Click here to subscribe and to see previous issues.